Google admits it was wrong to collect WiFi data

People wait at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

by Stephen Beard

Google has agreed to hand over personal data intercepted from private WiFi Internet connections while performing its street view service in Europe, admitting it was wrong to collect the data. Several European countries say the search engine company's actions were illegal, and Germany is considering launching a criminal investigation.

Google combed the personal while roaming European streets, taking snapshots for its street view service with specially-adapted cars. The Google feature has street views for U.S. locations and has rolled out to many parts of the world.

Google senior management is investigating whether a rogue code developed by a company developer was responsible for the data breach, which allowed some cars to eavesdrop on private WiFis and collect bits of personal and commercial data. Information collected may have included bank account numbers, Google says, which is of grave concern to data protetion authorities across europe.

Privacy campaigner Wendy Grossman says that while this data is on an open network, Google's gone too far. "Although the data is out there and it's being broadcast, there is an expectation that people have that somebody is not driving past collecting data from their homes."

Google has started handing over at least 600 GB of data to authorities to Germany, Spain and France. It will not discontinue the program which potetially allowed the Google developer to create the rogue code responsible for data collection; the company pays employees to develop extra projects and doesn't wish to chill creativity.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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