Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Schmoogle Spies

The company has admitted it downloaded personal data from wireless networks when its fleet of vehicles drove down residential roads taking photographs for its controversial Street View project.

Millions of internet users have potentially been affected.

One privacy campaigner described the intrusion as "absolutely scandalous" and called on Google to launch a full inquiry into the affair.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), the privacy watchdog, said it would be looking into Google's admission.

Images for Street View were gathered by vehicle-mounted panoramic cameras starting in 2008.

In May this year, Google confessed the vehicles had also been gathering information about the location of wireless networks, the devices which connect computers to the telecommunications network via radio waves.

Now the California-based company has revealed that far more information was harvested than was previously thought, after privacy regulators in seven countries analysed the data.

"It's clear from those inspections that while most of the data is fragmentary, in some instances entire emails and URLs [web addresses] were captured, as well as passwords," said Alan Eustace, Google's vice-president of engineering and research.

"We want to delete this data as soon as possible, and I would like to apologise again for the fact that we collected it in the first place."

Street View pictures were taken in the UK, US, Germany and other countries. Sources told The Sunday Telegraph that Britain was among countries affected by the privacy breach.

The company archived all the material it had gathered, which included emails being sent by private individuals, the web pages they were viewing and passwords they may have entered as the Street View vehicle passed their homes.

It is believed that only wireless networks that were not password-protected were affected.

Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, said: "It's absolutely scandalous that this situation has developed and so many people have had their communications intercepted.

In March this year Google announced that 95 per cent of Britain's roads had been covered by Street View, amounting to nearly a quarter of a million miles from Penzance to the Shetland Isles.

The camera vehicles are still at work on Britain's roads, collecting new images and filling in gaps which remain in the panoramic sequences.


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