Monday, November 29, 1999

Germany takes on Google over data collection

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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 website, 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 US and parts of Europe and Asia. Google apologised and said it had not used the information.But in Germany, Google's collection of the data - which the company said could include the websites 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."It appears that Google has illegally tapped into private networks in violation of German law," 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, said the company's revelation of illegal data collection would be taken up by a panel of European national data protection chiefs. "This is a data scandal of a much larger magnitude," 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.Caspar said he had inspected one of Google's Street View recording vehicles 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.

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