Google apologises to Australians for Wi-Fi snooping

Google has apologised to Australians for harvesting private Wi-Fi data as the company collected images for its Street View service

Google has apologised to Australians for harvesting private Wi-Fi data as the company collected images for its Street View service in the past four years.

The apology in Google's Australian blog comes after Australia's privacy watchdog ruled that the data collection breached the Australian Privacy Act.

Australian privacy commissioner Karen Curtis announced the verdict after a two-month investigation, according to Australian reports.

Curtis said Australians should reasonably expect that private communications remain private, but the Australian Privacy Act does not allow Curtis to impose legal penalties on Google.

Google has responded to the finding with an official apology to Australians and an undertaking to work with the Australian privacy commissioner on its Street View data collection activities.

The internet firm also promised to consult the privacy commissioner about any personal data collection activities arising from future product launches.

Alan Eustace, senior vice-president of engineering and research at Google, wrote in a blog post that maintaining people's trust is crucial to everything Google does.

"We want to reiterate to Australians that this was a mistake for which we are sincerely sorry," he wrote.

Google maintains that it did not intend to collect the Wi-Fi data and has never used any of the data collected in its products and services.

When the practice was first exposed, Google said experimental code had been incorporated in software for its Street View vehicles "by mistake".

According to Google, the company stopped collecting Wi-Fi data and removed reception equipment from its Street View vehicles as soon as the error was discovered.

Although the Australian Privacy Act does not allow for punitive measures, Google could still face charges if the Australian police find Google infringed the Telecommunications Interception Act.

Similar investigations are underway in New Zealand, Germany, France and the US.

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