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Google in hot water over evesdropping.

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Google in hot water over evesdropping.

Old 05-17-2010, 10:23 AM
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Default Google in hot water over evesdropping.

What the hell were they thinking?

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Google Data Admission Angers European Officials
By KEVIN J. O’BRIEN

Published: May 15, 2010


BERLIN — European privacy regulators and advocates reacted angrily Saturday to the disclosure by Google, the world’s largest search engine, that it had systematically collected private data since 2006 while compiling its Street View photo archive.


After being pressed by European officials about the kind of data the company compiled in creating the archive — and what it did with that information — Google acknowledged on Friday that it had collected snippets of private data around the world. In a blog post on its Web site, the company said information had been recorded as it was sent over unencrypted residential wireless networks as Google’s Street View cars with mounted recording equipment passed by.
The data collection, which Google said was inadvertent and the result of a programming error, took place in all the countries where Street View has been catalogued, including the United States and parts of Europe. Google apologized and said it had not used the information, which it plans to delete in conjunction with regulators.
But in Germany, Google’s collection of the data — which the company said could include the Web sites viewed by individuals or the content of their e-mail — is a violation of privacy law, said Ilse Aigner, the German minister for food, agriculture and consumer protection. In a statement Saturday, her ministry demanded a full accounting.
“Based on the information we have before us, it appears that Google has illegally tapped into private networks in violation of German law,” Ms. Aigner said. “This is alarming and further evidence that privacy law is a foreign concept to Google.”
Johannes Caspar, the data protection supervisor for Hamburg, who is leading the German government’s dealings with Google on the issue, said the company’s revelation of illegal data collection would be taken up by a panel of European national data protection chiefs that advises the European Commission.
“This is a data scandal of a much larger magnitude,” Mr. Caspar said. “We are talking here about the large-scale collection of private data on individuals.”
He declined to speculate what action European officials might take.
Mr. Caspar said he had inspected one of Google’s Street View recording vehicles at the company’s invitation this month and had noticed that the recording device’s hard drive had been removed. When he asked to view the drive, he said he was told he couldn’t read the information anyway because it was encoded. He said he pressed Google to disclose what type of information was being collected, which prompted the company to examine the storage unit.
“I am glad that this cat-and-mouse game with Google is finally over,” Mr. Caspar said. “I hope now that the company does what it says it will do.”
Over the weekend, Germany's federal commissioner for data protection and freedom of information, Peter Schaar, asked Google to let an independent regulator examine one of the hard drives to determine how much data had actually been collected on individuals.
In a blog posting written late Saturday on his official government Web site, Mr. Schaar, who is also a member of the panel that advises the European Commission on privacy and data protection issues, questioned whether Google's collection of the data was a simple oversight, as the company has maintained.
‘‘So everything was a simple oversight, a software error!'' Mr. Schaar wrote. ‘‘The data was collected and stored against the will of the project's managers and other managers at Google. If we follow this logic further, this means: The software was installed and used without being properly tested beforehand. Billions of bits of data were mistakenly collected, without anyone in Google noticing it, including Google's own internal data protection managers, who two weeks ago were defending to us the company's internal data protection practices.''
“I think this is going to damage the company irreparably,” said Simon Davies, the director of Privacy International, a London-based group of privacy advocates from 40 countries. “Three years ago the company was wearing a halo. But over the past year it has moved substantially in the direction of being perceived as Big Brother.”
Kay Oberbeck, a Google spokesman in Hamburg, said the company was in contact with data protection officials in Germany and in the rest of Europe to address their concerns. He disputed the notion that Google was recklessly collecting private information, saying the company’s services were meant to let users control what information is made public.
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