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Google admits it didn't delete all Wi-Fi data collected by Street View cars

Google admits it didn't delete all Wi-Fi data collected by Street View cars


Google says it has now found a cache of wireless data collected by Street View photographers, information that was supposed to be deleted in 2010. The UK Information Commissioner's Office says it will review the data and determine whether this breaches a previous agreement.

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Street View London
Street View London

In a letter to the UK's Information Commissioner's Office, Google has admitted that it did not purge all the unsecured wireless network information collected by its Street View cars, contrary to its 2010 promise to "delete this data as soon as possible." Google Global Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer says the company "has recently confirmed that it still has in its possession a small portion of payload data collected by our Street View vehicles in the UK" and other countries. Google previously said that most of the data it gathered was "fragmentary," but in some cases, URLs, full emails, or even passwords were collected.

This revelation was apparently the result of Google reviewing Street View storage drives after the ICO re-opened its investigation of the company's data collection practices and the FCC fined Google $25,000 for impeding its investigation. Google has maintained that it gathered the data accidentally, but it allegedly stonewalled regulatory agencies, and it's provided contradictory public accounts of what happened. Fleischer says the company "apologizes for the error" and is currently notifying the appropriate agencies in other countries whose data it still has. The ICO has asked Google to hold the data while the agency examines it.

This doesn't necessarily invalidate Google's claim that it accidentally collected the data and tried to delete it, but it may hurt the company's chances of avoiding some charges. Specifically, the ICO says it "appears to breach the undertaking to the ICO signed by Google in November 2010," which said all data would be deleted by December of 2010. The ICO is also "in touch with other data protection authorities in the EU."

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