Google is facing a firestorm of protest from people in the United States and across the globe after it 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. The data could include e-mail messages, passwords, or Web site visits.
Some people are upset with Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s assessment of the situation. The Telegraph in the United Kingdom said that Google “played down concerns about user privacy.” It reported Schmidt saying that it was important for people to people distinguish between “real harm” and perceived harm. “It’s highly unlikely that we’ve captured any useful data in that, and nothing has been done with that data,” Schmidt said at a conference in London.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Federal Trade Commission “is likely to open a preliminary inquiry into Google Inc.’s disclosure that it accidentally harvested data from unsecured wireless networks for several years, several people familiar with the matter said.”
Courthouse News Service reports that a class-action lawsuit (pdf) has been filed against Google over the wi-fi data collection. “In Portland, lead plaintiff Vicki Van Valin claims Google operates vehicles mounted with “wireless sniffers” that decode Wi-Fi data. She claims Google captured and decoded her Social Security number, banking information, medical records and other personal information, then stored the data on servers where ‘hundreds if not thousands” of Google employees could see it.'”
People’s Daily Online reports that, “After meeting with the government affairs director for Google’s Asia Pacific operations, [Roderick B. Woo, Hong Kong’s privacy commissioner for personal data,] said Google has agreed in principle to temporarily stop operations of vehicles for photo shooting in Hong Kong for its Street View Project, hand over the personal data it previously collected for review and delete all data under his request.”
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the Australian Privacy Commissioner is investigating the company. Commissioner Karen Curtis said that the data collection by Google “as a likely breach of the Privacy Act” and that she would continue discussions with the company.
EWeek reports that EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said it “is not acceptable that a company operating in the EU does not respect EU rules.” “She noted that the processing of personal data by Google Street View falls within the scope of the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC and is therefore subject to its provisions,” EWeek reports.
Bloomberg reports that Google is facing a criminal probe in Germany. “The Hamburg Prosecutors’ Office is investigating people at the company on suspicion of criminal data capture, prosecutor spokesman Wilhelm Moellers said in an interview today.”
Reuters UK reports that “Italy has started an investigation into Google Inc’s Street View web service.