Google admits to Wi-Fi privacy breaches

By Rachel Hand topicIcon Internet News

Another blow to Google's reputation

Just days after reports emerged that Street View is causing controversy in Germany, Google has admitted that there is another issue with the service. When the Street View cars toured and photographed Britain in 2009, they also logged Wi-Fi hotspots to improve location-based services.

However, in logging this information the cars 'mistakenly' gathered payload data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks. When this first came to light in May 2010, the information was not judged to be 'significant'. However, on Friday a Google blog post revealed that 'while most of the data is fragmentary, in some instances entire emails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords'.

The Information Commissioner's Office investigated the issue in July, concluding that no laws had been broken. However, in light of Google's confession that passwords and emails were collected, the case is to be re-opened. Investigations have also taken place in Australia, Canada, France, Germany and Spain.

Six months of improvements

In the six months since the issue was first brought to their attention, Google has taken steps to prevent further infringements. Alma Whitten has been appointed director of privacy, whilst employers receive training on privacy and data protection. Changes have also been made to the company's internal compliance procedure, requiring any project to address the problem of user data.

Google executive Alan Eustace said he was 'mortified by what happened', but insisted the changes would 'significantly improve' the situation. The Street View cars no longer collect Wi-Fi data.