Google: for three years we may have collected personal data from Street View cars
Google said it may have collected personal information from its Street View mapping cars, according to a letter to lawmakers earlier this week.
The firm also said it began collecting information from residential Wi-Fi networks three years ago and did not inform consumers directly that it was doing so.
The admission comes as privacy advocates, lawmakers and regulators grow increasingly concerned about privacy practices of Google and social networking sites such as Facebook. A security breach of AT&T’s network that exposed the e-mail addresses of 114,000 iPad users earlier this week underscored the vulnerability of user data as consumers flock to buy ever more powerful computing devices for business and personal use.
“This is deeply troubling for a company that bases its business model on gathering consumer data,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), one of three legislators who questioned the company on its Street View misstep. “As we are contemplating privacy legislation in the committee, I think this matter warrants a hearing, at minimum.”
In a letter dated June 9 to Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif), Barton and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Google said its collection of data was an accident and that the firm never used or analyzed the information it collected.
But Google said it may have collected personal information of Internet users.
“It is possible that the payload data may have included personal data if a user at the moment of collection broadcast such information, but we have not conducted an analysis of the payload data in a way that enables us to know exactly what was collected,” wrote Pablo Chavez, director of public policy for Google.
He wrote that the information collected included router identifier numbers, the signal strength and data transmission rates of Wi-Fi networks, and the type of encryption methods used by those hot spots. The Wi-Fi information, used to enhance its location-based services, was collected by antennas on top of its Street View mapping cars. Those cars drive around neighborhoods in dozens of countries to take pictures for its map program – a separate project from its efforts to identify Wi-Fi hotspots for its location-based services.
In answer to whether Google informed residents when its was amassing its database of residential Wi-Fi networks, the company pointed to a New York Times story and Wikipedia entry about its practices.
“The fact that Google collects network information broadcast by Wi-Fi routers to improve location-based services has been widely known,” Chavez wrote. “In retrospect, it is clear there should have been greater transparency about the collection of this data.”
Google said it destroyed the data collected in Ireland, Denmark and Austria. But because of U.S. lawsuits about the breach, it has retained U.S. Wi-Fi information.
| June 11, 2010; 3:51 PM ET
Categories: Google, Privacy
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