Google originally had come under considerable fire for its Street View product, where the online services giant photographed homes and other buildings in numerous countries as part of its online mapping service, as individuals said the photos invaded their privacy. Then, last May, Google announced that, for more than three years — in more than 30 countries — it had been “mistakenly collecting” personal data from open WiFi networks as its vehicles roamed the streets taking photos for its Street View mapping service. At the time, Google said that the data could include e-mail messages, passwords, or Web site visits. There was an uproar over the privacy implications.
Congressional lawmakers began asking questions (pdf) about the data collection. Later, the company admitted the data collected — without individuals’ knowledge or consent — did include entire e-mails and passwords. The online services giant faced questions from states, and Google reached a settlement with Connecticut over the data collection. In October, the Federal Trade Commission announced that (pdf) it has closed an investigation into possible privacy breaches by Google’s Street View after the company pledged to stop gathering consumers’ e-mail, passwords and other personal data.
The probe was launched after the country’s Privacy Commission lodged a complaint with Belgian authorities.
Google acknowledged last year that vehicles taking photographs for the mapping service in several European countries also collected data from unencrypted wireless networks.
Company spokesman Al Verney said Thursday that Google had stopped the practice as soon as it found out about it and was now cooperating with Belgian authorities. […]
Earlier this week, the Dutch data protection watchdog criticized Google for the data sweep and demanded it inform consumers how to have their information deleted.
Last month, France’s privacy authorities fined Google euro100,000 ($145,800) for collecting personal data from WiFi networks — including emails, web browsing histories and online banking details — from 2007 to 2010.