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Privacy Commissioner probing Google over data

By Edward Gay

The Privacy Commissioner is investigating Google after it was revealed that Google obtained payload data while photographing New Zealand streets for their Street View.

Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff said she is working with her counterparts around the world to come up with an international response to the internet giant.

"Google has told us that it has segregated the payload data collected in New Zealand, and secured it. It has also taken the positive step of engaging an independent party to review the software and Google's procedures to prevent a recurrence of these types of problems. We expect to be informed of the results of that review," Ms Shroff said.

But Google is also alleged to have collected WiFi data that includes people's networks and their signal strength.

Ms Shroff said Google has told the Commission that it will keep this information.

"We and other privacy commissioners are considering whether this is acceptable in terms of privacy law and practice," Ms Shroff said.

The Commission has called on Google to notify the public before collecting similar data in the future.

Google's office in Australia has so far not returned phone calls.

The Google issue has also made headlines in Germany where the country's's consumer protection minister strongly criticised Google.

Google issued an apology at the weekend, acknowledging it had been collecting data about people's WiFi networks.

Minister Ilse Aigner said the alarming incident showed that Google still lacks an understanding of the need for privacy.

"According to the information available to us so far, Google has for years penetrated private networks, apparently illegally," her office said.

The ministry also accuses Google of withholding information requested by German regulators.

Only two weeks ago, Google was telling Germany's consumer protection authorities that it was only recording the network's names and addresses. Repeated questions about whether the company was gathering even more data remained unanswered, her statement said.

"Maintaining people's trust is crucial to everything we do," Alan Eustace, Google's top engineering executive, wrote in a blog post. "We are acutely aware that we failed badly here."

Google has characterised its collection of snippets from emails and web surfing done on public Wi-Fi networks as a mistake and said it has taken steps to avoid a recurrence. The company said it only recently discovered the problem following the inquiry from German regulators.

Street View provides photographs of neighbourhoods taken by Google cameras. The service has been very controversial as privacy groups and authorities fear that people - filmed without their consent - could be seen doing things they didn't want to be seen doing or in places where they didn't want to be seen.

Google was criticised last month over the launch of its Buzz program by privacy advocates around the world.

Google Buzz caused concern amongst privacy advocates because it automatically gave users a network of followers who they had been emailing regularly. But followers could also see who their friends had been emailing.

- With AP

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