Google apologizes for privacy lapses, to tighten controls (Update)

Oct 22, 2010 by Chris Lefkow
A Google street view car. Google said Friday it was strengthening its privacy and security practices after its "Street View" mapping service gathered private wireless data, including emails and passwords, in dozens of countries.

Google pledged Friday to strengthen its privacy and security practices after its "Street View" mapping service gathered private wireless data, including emails and passwords, in dozens of countries.

"We work hard at Google to earn your trust, and we're acutely aware that we failed badly here," Alan Eustace, Google's senior vice president of engineering and research, said in a blog post.

"So we've spent the past several months looking at how to strengthen our internal privacy and security practices," he said.

Eustace provided Google's most detailed description yet of the private data on unsecured wireless networks scooped up by Street View cars as they cruised through cities around the world taking pictures.

"While most of the data is fragmentary, in some instances entire emails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords," he said. "We want to delete this data as soon as possible, and I would like to apologize again for the fact that we collected it in the first place.

"We are mortified by what happened, but confident that these changes to our processes and structure will significantly improve our internal privacy and security practices for the benefit of all our users," Eustace said.

He said Google was appointing Alma Whitten, a Google expert on privacy and security, as director of privacy "to ensure that we build effective privacy controls into our products and internal practices."

Google would also enhance privacy training and require employees to take part in a new "information security awareness program," Eustace said.

In addition, Google will require that a "privacy design document" be included as part of all of its engineering projects, he said.

Google announced in May that Street View cars taking photographs of cities in more than 30 countries had inadvertently gathered data sent over unsecured Wi-Fi systems.

Canada's privacy commissioner said Tuesday the data collected included "complete emails, email addresses, usernames and passwords, names and residential telephone numbers and addresses.

"Some of the captured information was very sensitive, such as a list that provided the names of people suffering from certain medical conditions, along with their telephone numbers and addresses," it said.

Google has since stopped the collection of Wi-Fi data, used to provide location-based services such as driving directions in Google Maps and other products, by Street View cars.

In June, Google said it has already deleted private wireless data collected by its Street View cars in Austria, Denmark and Ireland.

Google is facing civil suits in Oregon and several other US states demanding millions of dollars in damages over its collection of personal wireless data and a number of countries have taken action against Street View.

Spain's data protection authority has filed suit against Google and the Czech data protection authority last month banned the company from taking Street View pictures, saying they violated privacy.

Google this week said that nearly a quarter of a million Germans have asked the Internet company to pixel out images of their houses on Street View.

Street View, which was launched in 2006, lets users view panoramic street scenes on Google Maps and take a virtual "walk" through cities such as New York, Paris or Hong Kong.

Until the practice was stopped, Street View cars were collecting Wi-Fi data in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Macau, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United States.

Explore further: Dutch student sells his data for €350, but at what price privacy?

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User comments : 7

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Flakk
4.3 / 5 (6) Oct 22, 2010
We at Google apologize for our very public and repeated breaches of privacy. Here at the Googlepex we are working harder than ever to make sure we never get caught again.
tkjtkj
5 / 5 (1) Oct 22, 2010
We at Google apologize for our very public and repeated breaches of privacy. Here at the Googlepex we are working harder than ever to make sure we never get caught again.

yes, i remain very skeptical of G's concerns for our privacy!
I was shocked today when i entered YouTube (owned by G.) to find that YouTube presented me with a page based upon content of my gmail contacts book!!!!!!
This is appalling!! A page on Google then told me that 'other sites do not have access to my google account!

Further review showed that YouTube had gained even more access .. Just about anything i might have done on YouTube was checked as being 'Accessible' by other similar sites.

It was years ago that i challenged Google to state its position on privacy: that although G. espouses concern, it was in G's $$ interest NOT to protect it .. as the more G. knows, the more valuable a company it becomes .. value would be considered by any prospective future buyer! G. has a major conflict of interest!
Bob_Kob
3 / 5 (2) Oct 23, 2010
oh boo freaking hoo. Compared to other companies google is a saint.
Modernmystic
2 / 5 (4) Oct 23, 2010
I still don't really get all the pissing and moaning over street view. They're not collecting anything that you can't see walking along a city street. Are these countries going to require private citizens to put on blindfolds when they leave their houses to go for a drive or a walk?
blazingspark
4 / 5 (1) Oct 24, 2010
Collecting data from unsecured wireless? whats wrong with that?

Its like roaming the streets naked and complaining when someone takes a photo!
blazingspark
not rated yet Oct 24, 2010
Its also obvious to me that the data collection was unintentional. There is allot of other info that is far more valuable and interesting to Google than peoples emails and website passwords. Eg: Wireless network proliferation and coverage. Statistics on numbers of access points/node density/network traffic and so on. That was obviously their real intention.. Why would Google care about your email :/

Some people are extremely self important I guess. Yes.. Google cares about what you wrote to your girlfriend last week. :P

I'm sure your security was paramount if your wireless is unencrypted. How many businesses that care about security would have an unsecured access point? if they have one at all!
TheQuietMan
not rated yet Oct 27, 2010
Why would they collect wireless data at all? I thought the street view was cool, but the data collection? Not so much.

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