Google Faces Backlash Over Street View, Privacy Issues


But like upstart rival Facebook last week, Google appears to have been caught far from shore as a rising tide of resentment against the use of personal data by online giants grows more powerful.

In the face of increased scrutiny by U.S. and European authorities into the Mountain View, Calif.-based company’s Street View photo mapping project, Google co-founder Sergey Brintold the crowd at Google I/O that his company “screwed up” in equipping its Street View cars to tap into open Wi-Fi networks and capture personal data from people.

Google revealed in a blog post published last week that its Street View cars had been “mistakenly” capturing payload data from non-password-protected Wi-Fi networks despite earlier assurances to authorities that the project limited itself to only collecting publicly broadcast Wi-Fi network names, known as SSID information, and unique device numbers on those networks, or MAC addresses.

"Let me just say, ‘We screwed up.’ I'm not going to make excuses about this,” Brin said Wednesday at Google I/O, according to The Register. Google said it would be deleting the Wi-Fi network payload data captured by its Street View project and Brin described the whole debacle as “an error.”

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Perhaps, but it was an error that went on for three years, according to reports. That’s caused regulators and legislators around the world to call for further investigations despite Google’s assurances that it “never used [the payload] data in any Google products.”

In the U.S., the co-chairs of the House Privacy Caucus want to know if Google did anything illegal when it collected private data through Street View, and they’ve asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into it.

In Germany, prosecutors on Wednesday opened a criminal investigation into Google’s Street View project, demanding that Google turn over a hard drive from one of its Street View cars by May 26.

Meanwhile, Google executives at the highest level are seriously considering privacy concerns that could develop around future projects, according to the Financial Times.

Google’s development of new facial recognition software is a potential “privacy flashpoint,” and as such has been “one of the key topics of internal debate” at the company, Google CEO Eric Schmidt told the newspaper.

According to privacy advocates, facial recognition technology that was able to quickly and accurately find photos of specific individuals across the Internet could potentially be abused by stalkers and identity thieves.

Schmidt wouldn’t make any promises as to whether Google would hold back new facial recognition technology, however, telling the Times, “It is important that we continue to innovate.”