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Growing anger over Google Street View privacy breach

Anger is growing over Google's Street View privacy breach, with local government leaders adding to the chorus calling for scrutiny of the search giant. On Wednesday, D.C. Council Member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) joined U.S. lawmakers and European government leaders in calling for an investigation into the online giant's collection of private data from residental WiFi networks.

Graham said Google's actions, disclosed by the company on Friday, "may have exposed countless Washingtonians to a “big brother-like” invasion of privacy.” He called for D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles and Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Director Linda Argo to investigate potential violations of law, including any anti-trust violations of the D.C. privacy laws.

Earlier Wednesday, Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.) sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission seeking an investigation into what data was collected, who accessed it and how that may have harmed consumers.

Google has said the data was collected by mistake, an error it blamed on an engineering glitch. At a developer conference in San Francisco Wednesday, co-founder Sergey Brin said:

"Let me just say that we screwed up. I’m not going to make any excuses about it. The answer is yes. We do have a lot of internal controls in place but obviously they didn’t prevent this error from occurring. We are putting more internal controls in place and bringing in third parties to work on this issue, as well. Trust is very important to us. We are doing everything we can to preserve that trust."

The privacy breach comes amid increased scrutiny by lawmakers and regulators on how companies like Google and Facebook are handling Internet user data. Facebook has been criticized by lawmakers and consumers for changes in its privacy policies that in some cases left users' profile information exposed to anyone on the Web. The Federal Trade Commission has said it is developing with a framework to guide social networking firms on privacy issues.

Hemu Nigam, an online security expert, said many Silicon Valley companies have grown so quickly that security and privacy became an afterthought. Nigam, who led cybersecurity efforts at Microsoft and News Corp., dropped by The Post on Wednesday and talked about how venture capitalists should urge startups to make privacy and security issues a bigger priority in their business plans.

For example, he said, the backlash against Facebook over recent changes to privacy settings epitomizes the kind of growing pains that exponential growth can bring.

"Companies need to think of privacy holistically and up front so problems don't happen like they did for Facebook," Nigam said. "A venture capitalist that doesn't see privacy and security in a business plan should reject it or make sure that gets in. Because in the end its about good branding and trust and when you lose that, your advertisers bail out and so do customers."

By Cecilia Kang  |  May 20, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Google , Privacy  
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Imagine my surprise - When checking out Street View I find a picture of my 9 year old son playing in our driveway. Our school isn't even allowed to publish pictures of students on their website without express permission given by parents. Google can publish his picture along with his address and a picture of our home. Nice.

Posted by: grtlakes | May 20, 2010 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Publishing a photo of a child on the Internet without permission of the parent is a federal crime.

Posted by: TominMtP | May 20, 2010 8:50 AM | Report abuse

I can understand being upset about pictures on the website when the faces aren't properly blurred and I could understand being upset if the wireless data was available on the website. We're talking about data that was collected from unsecure networks on unlicensed frequencies. The data was never published and as soon as someone from Google realized it, they stepped up, owned up to it and announced that they were removing it. Also, generally speaking wardriving is not currently illegal in most countries provided the networks aren't connected to or used. You are allowed to sniff traffic out of the air all day long.

Posted by: pdlovelace | May 20, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

So, how does one go about requesting that google remove their picture?

Posted by: grtlakes | May 20, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Note that Cecilia Kang, Google's reporter at the post, offer's Google's poor excuse for collecting the data and offers no opposing viewpoint. She also drags Facebook into the article, apparently to make it seem as if breaches of privacy are common and therefore no big deal. The Post should dismiss Kang due to her persistent bias toward an advertiser.

Posted by: LBrettGlass | May 20, 2010 7:26 PM | Report abuse

I'm not going to excuse Google, but what people don't get here is that Google got this data from unsecured networks.

In my immediate Wi-Fi zone, a fairly dense area, there are anywhere from two to three open networks out of nearly a dozen.

The problem is that people aren't properly securing their Wi-Fi. Google is unlikely to invade your banking account and steal your money, but there are a whole lot of other people willing to do that and unless people bother to learn Wi-Fi 101 they shouldn't be setting up a wireless network.

And, seriously, who cares if Jim Graham is upset. It seems as if he enough other issues on his plate, such as Metro and taxes, instead of this fake outrage.

Posted by: smoke111 | May 21, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

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