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ICO reviews Google WiFi snooping investigation following US report

Warwick Ashford

The UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is considering re-opening investigations into Google's Wi-Fi snooping after a US report cast doubt on personal data Google's claims it had collected the Wi-Fi data by mistake.

The ICO and a number of other data protection authorities are considering re-opening investigations after studying the recently-released report on Google's Street View data capture by the Federal Communication Commission.

According to the report, a Google engineer had created the necessary software and “intended to collect, store and review payload data for possible use in other Google projects”.

This software harvested information from unsecured Wi-Fi networks as Google's Street View vehicles recorded images in the UK and other European countries, in 2009 and 2010.

The engineer – identified as California-based UK wireless networking specialist Marius Milner – refused to co-operate with the FCC investigation to avoid self-incrimination, according to the Telegraph.

Google maintained Milner acted without the knowledge or authorisation of senior managers, but FCC investigators found he had circulated details of his plans.

The ICO's 2010 investigation into the matter accepted Google's claims the snooping had been accidental and the controls would be improved.

But this week an ICO spokesman said: “We are currently studying the FCC report to consider what further action, if any, needs to be taken."

In November 2010, Google agreed to allow the ICO to audit the firm's privacy practices. The first audit was published in August 2011. The ICO plans another audit this year to ensure Google is following its recommendations.

Google was fined for impeding the FCC’s investigation into the Street View project, but still claims project leaders did not want or intend to use the data collected. 

Google also claims the data was never used in any Google products or services.


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