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ICO re-opens Google Street View Wi-Fi data investigation

Warwick Ashford

The UK's Information Commissioner's Office is to re-open its investigation into the collection of Wi-Fi data by Google's Street View vehicles as they collected images for Google Maps.

The UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is among  a number of data protection authorities reviewing their investigations following the recently released report on Google's Street View data capture by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC).

An investigation by US authorities, started in 2010, revealed that Wi-Fi data such as passwords and e-mails were collected by Google Street View vehicles in more than 30 countries.

The ICO closed an earlier investigation into the matter after Google claimed the Street View cars had collected Wi-Fi data "by mistake".

However, in light of new evidence – that a Google engineer had deliberately written software to enable Wi-Fi data collection – the ICO is to re-open its investigation and ask for more information.

The FCC found the engineer in question had told at least two other Google employees about the software, including a senior manager.

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

The ICO now wants to know: what types of data were captured in the UK; when Google managers became aware of the issue; how the news was managed; and why the full range of gathered data was not represented in a sample Google showed the ICO in 2010, according to the BBC.

The ICO also wants proof that the Wi-Fi data collected by the Google Street View vehicles was destroyed, as had been agreed with Google in 2010. 

The ICO has asked for copies of the original software design document and details of what measures were introduced to prevent breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998, according to the Telegraph.

In April, Google was fined for hampering 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 claims the data was never used in any of its products or services.

UK privacy organisations have welcomed the ICO's decision to re-open its investigation. In 2010, the ICO was criticised for not investigating the matter fully enough.


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