Google to Turn WiFi Data Over to Germany, France and Spain

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-06-04

Responding to the growing outcry over it privacy practices, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said the search engine will cede the data it accidentally collected over WiFi to regulators in Germany, France and Spain.

Google May 14 acknowledged that its Street View cars, which take pictures for Google Maps, unwittingly collected 600 gigabytes' worth of fragmented e-mail, Web browsing and other data from unsecured WiFi networks.

This happened in 33 regions, including the United States, Ireland, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Spain and France from 2007 until Google discovered the faux pas this year and said it ceased collecting WiFi data for good.

While Google deleted data in Ireland, Denmark and Austria, it did not do so in Germany and other countries, citing the need to review privacy laws and other legal issues.

Google changed its tune, as Schmidt told the Financial Times June 3 that Google will hand over the collected WiFi data to German, French and Spanish data protection authorities within two days.

"We screwed up. Let's be very clear about that," Schmidt told the Times. "If you are honest about your mistakes it is the best defense for it not happening again."

Google will also publish the results of an external audit into its Street View data collection practice. The company will further review all its privacy practices, releasing the results within the next month.

Schmidt claimed Google is conducting an internal investigation against the software programmer who created the code that collected the WiFi data, a violation of the company's rules.

A Google spokesperson confirmed the accuracy of the report with eWEEK but declined to provide additional information.

Cries of discontent over this flouting of user privacy are no quieter in the United States, where Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz told Congress that his group will investigate the incident.

Reps. Joe Barton, Henry Waxman and Edward Markey wrote a May 26 letter to Schmidt saying they wanted to know how much personal data the company gathered from what has become known in some quarters as the WiSpy incident.

The so-called WiSpy incident is the second privacy firestorm Google must try to extinguish. The company launched its Google Buzz social conversation service in February, only to shock users by exposing their Gmail contacts to the public on Google profile pages.

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