World Investigates Google's Data Collection

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[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The world's largest search engine faces investigations from several countries and at least 30 U.S. states into the unauthorized collection of personal data--600 gigabytes worth--from unsecured wireless computer networks around the world by its Street View cars.

Google has admitted that it had systematically collected snippets of private data from Wi-Fi networks around the world since 2006 while compiling its Street View photo archive. In a blog post on its website, Google said data had been inadvertently recorded while traveling over unencrypted residential wireless networks as Google's Street View cars with mounted recording equipment passed by, The New York Times reported.

According to The Times, the data collection, which Google blamed on a programming error, occurred in every country where Street View has been catalogued, including the United States and parts of Europe. Google has apologized and said it had not used the information, which it promised to delete in coordination with regulators.

But a simple apology will not suffice in some countries, where the mistake--which Google admits may have resulted in the collection of personally identifiable information, such as individuals' web browser histories and e-mail content--violated national and local privacy laws.

The problem was discovered when Germany, which was already suspicious of Google due to past battles to protect citizens privacy, asked to see the data the company had been collecting. According to Businessweek.com, Google initially said it had not captured any personally identifiable information, but later admitted it had.

German officials demanded that Google hand over a hard drive containing the information it had collected. Google refused, but offered to destroy the German data.

German authorities have begun an investigation that could lead to criminal penalties and fines. If the case goes to court, it may be hard for Google to win. German courts have been consistent in their agreement that it is illegal to access an individual's private network without their permission, The Times reported.

Google is allowing German property owners to opt out before their properties are shown when Street View goes live. …