Google Sharing WiFi Data With Authorities - InformationWeek

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6/4/2010
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Google Sharing WiFi Data With Authorities

The company's plan to trash the accidentally gathered data gives way to the reality of regulatory demands.

Google has decided to provide data protection authorities with the information it inadvertently collected from WiFi networks through its Street View cars.

Last month, Google said it had discovered that a statement it had made previously about the data collected by its Street View vehicles had been incorrect.

The team responsible for the computer program used to collect Street view images had included another Google engineer's experimental code in its application, unaware of everything the code could do. One of the code's functions it turns out was grabbing data off of unprotected WiFi networks.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin and CEO Eric Schmidt have both publicly acknowledged that the company made a serious mistake. The company is taking steps to ensure that production code doesn't include such surprises in the future. The issue is considered to be one of procedure and process rather than employee discipline.

Google's decision to provide the data, confirmed by a company spokesperson, reverses a stance taken by the company to withhold data until it could sort through the legal and practical problems of making the data available to appropriate parties.

Initially, Google sought permission to destroy the data, perhaps hoping to make a quick end to what's likely to be a regulatory quagmire for the company. It has already deleted data gathered in Austria, Denmark, and Ireland.

The change of tack was inevitable. Faced with an order from a U.S. District Court judge in Oregon to hand over WiFi data gathered in the U.S. -- a consequence of one of many civil lawsuits filed against the company in recent weeks for alleged privacy law violations -- Google had not choice but to make the data available.

Google will be retaining the WiFi data for countries that request it, both in the U.S. and abroad. It is also cooperating with investigations in France, Germany, and Spain.

Earlier this week, Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said her office was launching an investigation into Google's inadvertent WiFi data collection.

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