Google says sorry to Kiwis over Wi-Fi data grab

By Matt Greenop

Google has apologised to New Zealanders over privacy concerns after it was revealed that its Street View cars were collecting data sent over some Wi-Fi networks.

Google says that this data gathering was inadvertent, and that it was usual for cars filming for its controversial Street View service generally collected other types of data from the networks to improve the service.

The Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff today completed her investigation into the data snatch, and says that while the search giant broke New Zealand privacy law, she is "pleased" with its acceptance of wrongdoing.

"Google has acknowledged that it went about things the wrong way here" said Shroff.

"It failed to tell people that it was collecting the open WiFi information and what it was going to use it for. This was not good enough. Google also breached our privacy law when it collected the content of people's communications.

"It is important that Google makes sure that these mistakes do not keep happening. For technology to be successful, people need to trust it. If they don't trust it, they won't use it."

Alan Eustace, Google's senior VP, engineering and research, apologised on behalf of the company in a blog post this morning.

"As soon as we discovered our error, we grounded our Street View cars and began to work with the New Zealand Privacy Commissioner and others to discuss what happened," he said.

"Our collection of payload data was a mistake for which we are sincerely sorry, and we'd like to apologise to all New Zealanders."

"We have removed all Wi-Fi reception equipment from our Street View cars so they will no longer collect any Wi-Fi data. While Wi-Fi network data like SSID information (the Wi-Fi network name) and MAC addresses (the unique number given to a device like a Wi-Fi router) are publicly broadcast and accessible to any Wi-Fi-enabled device (like laptops and mobile phones), some people felt we should have been more explicit about what we were collecting."

"We also think we should have had greater transparency around our initial collection of publicly broadcast Wi-Fi network information. We're sorry for not realising this sooner."

New Zealand is not the first country that has clashed with Google over privacy issues related to the Street View service. It has been under fire in Australia and the United Kingdom this year.

The German government in September demanded that it, and other online mapping companies, came up with data protection guidelines by this month or face tough new regulation.

Google had previously threatened to pull the pin on Street View in the EU as European Commission requests were becoming "unmanageable".

America's Federal Trade Commission started investigating Street View data harvesting last month.


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