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Google, Germany Close To Resolving Wi-Fi Data Issue

June 4, 2010

Internet search company Google has said it is “close” to resolving issues that have kept it from passing Wi-Fi data disks, which contains data Google Street View cars gathered by accident, to German authorities.

Google has been under pressure by the German regional Information Commissioner to make the data available by May 27.

In a statement, Dr Johannes Caspar, from the Hamburg Information Commissioner’s office, said he expected Google to “continue on the path of cooperation and transparency” and to hand over the data as asked.

Caspar had requested answers to a barrage of technical questions about how Google had been able to gather details of internet traffic from Wi-Fi networks belonging to businesses and individuals around the world.

Google was able to answer many of the questions before the May 27 deadline and made a Street View car available for tests. However, it refused to hand over the hard disk, amid concerns that it may be breaching German telecommunication law by doing so.

“I have asked the General Prosecutor in Hamburg whether Google would face problems in giving us the material, and he told us that this would not be a problem,” Dr Caspar told BBC News last week.

Google said it had mistakenly captured data transmitted across encrypted wireless networks while trying to improve location-based services by collecting the Wi-Fi data. It said a “failure of communication between and within teams” contributed to the issue.

The Hamburg Information Commissioner’s office said in a statement it had performed tests on a Google Street View car, in a controlled environment, with simulated wireless networks.

“For the Wi-Fi coverage in the Street View cars, both the free software Kismet, and a Google-specific program were used,” the statement said.

“The Google-specific program components are available only in machine-readable binary code, which makes it impossible to analyze the internal processing,” it said.

Kismet’s website says it is a “wireless network detector, sniffer, and intrusion detection system.”

An article posted on Wi-Fi Planet about the Kismet software said it is capable of even detecting wireless networks where the so-called SSID Wi-Fi network identifier was hidden.

Due to the importance of the issue, “we think a full investigation is essential,” said Caspar.

“For this purpose, additional information will be required about the software’s source code, and ultimately, a hard disk with original data,” he said.

In its own statement on the issue, Google said: “We are working hard to get the Hamburg DPA access to the data and information he needs – indeed we have already given him access to a car to review.”

“We recognize how important this issue is and believe that we are close to resolving the legal issues we have faced in order to make available the payload data we mistakenly ended up collecting,” it said.

The US Federal Trade Commission launched a probe into Google’s actions, in response to a request from the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog.

The office of Canada’s Privacy Commissioner has also launched an investigation into the collection of the data.

“We have a number of questions about how this collection could have happened,” said Jennifer Stoddart, Canada’s Privacy Commissioner.

“We’ve determined that an investigation is the best way to find the answers,” she added.

Under instruction from protection commissioners, Google has already destroyed other data it has gathered in some jurisdictions, including those of Denmark and Ireland.

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