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ICO clears Google over Wi-Fi snooping

Data collected didn't include meaningful personal details

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has confirmed that data Google accidentally collected from unsecured Wi-Fi networks does not include "any meaningful personal details".

Google's error only came to light after the German data protection authority audited the Wi-Fi data collected by Street View cars, which capture real-time photographs of cities across the world for use in Google Maps, the search engine's mapping service.

The authority revealed that as well as collecting SSID information (the network's name) and MAC addresses (the number given to Wi-Fi devices such as a router), Google had also been collecting payload data such as emails or web page content being viewed.

"[While] Google considered it unlikely that it had collected anything other than fragments of content, we wanted to make our own judgement as to the likelihood that significant personal data had been retained and, if so, the extent of any intrusion," the ICO said following a visit to the search engine's offices on July 15.

"The information we saw does not include meaningful personal details that could be linked to an identifiable person. We will be alerting Privacy International and others who have complained to us of our position."

As the ICO initially refused to the investigate the error, Privacy International said it was left with no choice but to go to the Metropolitan Police and ask them to investigate.

"I don't see any alternative but for us to go to Scotland Yard," said Simon Davis from the organisation at the time.

Last month, the Metropolitan Police force confirmed it will start an investigation Google's activities.

The ICO said it had only seen samples of data collected in the UK, which doesn't rule out the possibility that personally identifiable data had been collected in other countries.

"However, on the basis of the samples we saw we are satisfied so far that it is unlikely that Google will have captured significant amounts of personal data."

As soon as the issue was made public, Google pulled its Street View cars. However, earlier this month, the search engine revealed it was reinstating the vehicles, without the code to capture wi-fi data, in Ireland, Norway, South Africa and Sweden.

The company said it would reintroduce the cars into other locations in the near future.

See also: Google pushed to name names over Wi-Fi data collection


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