Google being probed by U.K. privacy regulator over collection of e-mails

Google Inc. is being investigated by Britain's privacy regulator after the company said its Street View mapping unit inadvertently gathered personal e-mails and passwords from unsecured wireless networks.

Google, which first disclosed the security breach in May, said in an Oct. 22 blog post that while the data it collected was mostly fragmentary, it included entire e-mails and URLs. The London-based Information Commissioner’s Office will examine if the data applied to the U.K., the watchdog said today in a statement.

The regulator will review "whether this information relates to the data inadvertently captured in the U.K., before deciding on the necessary course of action, including a consideration of the need to use our enforcement powers," ICO spokesman Greg Jones said in the statement.

European governments including Germany, France and Spain began probes of Google after the Mountain View, California-based company said in May that its Street View cars had inadvertently recorded information from Wi-Fi networks while photographing roadsides in residential neighborhoods.

"As soon as we realized what had happened, we stopped collecting all Wi-Fi data from our Street View cars and immediately informed the authorities," Alma Whitten, Google's director of privacy, said yesterday in a statement. "This data has never been used in any Google product."

In June, a U.K. privacy group asked London police to investigate whether Google, the owner of the world's most popular search engine, should face criminal charges for collecting data from homes while photographing thousands of residential streets.

Privacy International, which has received funding from the European Parliament and the American Civil Liberties Union, asked London's Metropolitan Police to investigate why Google gathered unsecured Wi-Fi data while scanning neighborhoods for Street View.

(Published by Bloomberg - October 25, 2010)

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