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Privacy group to go to police over Google Wi-Fi data collection

Privacy International likens mistake to tapping phone without constent

Privacy International has revealed it will approach the Police regarding Google's recent admission it had mistakenly collected data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks for the past three years.

The search enginer's error came to light after the German data protection authority audited the Wi-Fi data collected by Street View cars for use in location-based products such as Google Maps for mobile.

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.

"The independent audit of the Google system shows that the system used for the Wi-Fi collection intentionally separated out unencrypted content (payload data) of communications and systematically wrote this data to hard drives," said Simon Davis from Privacy International.

He added it was equivalent to placing a hard tap and a digital recorder onto a phone wire without consent or authorisation.

The UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) said it was aware of the issue and if it finds "evidence of significant wrongdoing, we will of course investigate and consider what action should be taken".

"I don't see any alternative but for us to go to Scotland Yard," said David referring to the ICO's reluctance to investigate.

Google said the error came after a piece of experimental code written in 2006 was included in the software used by its Street View cars by mistake.

However, Davis says Google's explanation "doesn't add up".

"This is complex code and it must have been given a budget and been overseen. Google has asserted that all its projects are rigorously checked," said Davies.

""It goes to the heart of a systematic failure of management and of duty of care."

See also: Google Street View cars mapped UK's Wi-Fi networks

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