Google Faces European Investigations In Data Collection Gaff

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Last week Google admitted that it inadverdently collected 600 gigabytes of data, including e-mails and Web addresses, about people’s online activities in more than 30 countries while building its Street View photo archive.

This week Google co-founder Sergey Brin, speaking at a news conference at the Google I/O conference in San Francisco, acknowledged that the company “screwed up” by collecting the data and described the debacle as “an error.”

A story in the New York Times Thursday said data protection officials in Spain, the Czech republic, France and Germany have started administrative inquiries into Google’s data collection practices, alleging the company had violated local privacy laws.

The story said Investigators at France’s National Commission on Informatics and Liberties inspected Google’s Paris office Wednesday to gather evidence. And in Germany prosecutors opened an investigation in Hamburg after a law student there filed a formal complaint.

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The Times story said Britain and Ireland, in contrast, had no plans to begin investigations, but had asked Google to destroy the data collected in their countries.

Google is also the target of a class-action lawsuit filed in an Oregon district court by Vicki Van Valin and Neil Mertz who argue that their privacy was violated when Street View vehicles picked up data from their home wireless Internet connections, according to a report on the Web site. The lawsuit seeks damages for breach of privacy and punitive damages.

The suit also asks the court to prevent Google from deleting the data as it could be used as evidence in the case.