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Google Street View: Watchdog Eyes Search Giant After Reports Execs Knew Of Data Snooping

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A Google street view vehicle mapping roads
A Google street view vehicle mapping roads

The UK privacy regulator is considering taking action against Google, after a US government report said senior executives knew it had gathered emails, photos and other information while building its Street View mapping product.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) said it would study the US Federal Communications Commission's report, which questioned Google's claim it harvested the data accidentally.

Google Street View allows users to tour maps at ground level, viewing 360-degree photographs every few metres.

But after the product was launched in 2007, it emerged Google had also collected other data, including photos and emails, while taking the pictures.

The information - which included emails, text, images and other personal details - was collected between 2009 and 2010.

According to the FCC, a British engineer based in California, named Marius Milner, created the software to "collect, store and review payload data for possible use in other Google products".

Google had previously said the collection of the data was "quite simply a mistake".

The company also said Marius acted alone in developing the software - a claim accepted by the ICO in a previous report - but according to the FCC he told senior staffers about what he was doing.

"For more than two years, Google's Street View cars collected names, addresses, telephone numbers, URLs, passwords, email, text messages, medical records, video and audio files, and other information from internet users," the report said.

Additionally, the ICO had said it was satisfied Google had improved its privacy checks:

The 2011 report said: "The audit verified that Google have made improvements to their internal privacy structure, privacy training and awareness and privacy reviews.

"The audit provided reasonable assurance that these changes reduce, but do not eliminate, the risk of an incident similar to the mistaken collection of payload data by Google Street View vehicles occurring again."

But on Monday the ICO said in a statement it would study the new report:

It said: "We are currently studying the FCC report to consider what further action, if any, needs to be taken.

"Google provided our office with a formal undertaking in November 2010 about their future conduct, following their failure in relation to the collection of WiFi data by their Street View cars.

"This included a provision for the ICO to audit Google's privacy practices. The audit was published in August 2011 and we will be following up on it later this year, to ensure our recommendations have been put in place."

Anthony House, Google spokesperson, said:

“We have always been clear that the leaders of this project did not want or intend to use this payload data. Indeed Google never used it in any of our products or services.

"Both the Department of Justice and the FCC have looked into this closely - including reviewing the internal correspondence--and both found no violation of law."

Below: Odd sights captured on Google Street View.

Also on The Huffington Post

Ron Rafman
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