July 22, 2010

Google Facing Possible Legal Action In Privacy Probe

A coalition of 37 state attorney generals, led by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, is pressuring officials at Google to release the names of engineers responsible for code that obtained personal information through unsecured wi-fi networks, according to recent media reports.

At issue is Google's use of "Street View" cars, which have been touring various locations spanning the globe in order to take pictures and confirm locations for the Mountain View, California company's online Google Maps service. According to Google, the vehicles were only supposed to confirm locations and take photographs.

However, they inadvertently downloaded personal email and other data, according to Reuters reports, and now Blumenthal and colleagues from 37 states and Washington D.C. are working to see if Google broke any laws in the process. They want Google to divulge the name of those responsible for writing the code used by the Street View cars, and whether or not it had been tested prior to implementation.

"Google must come completely clean, fully explaining how this invasion of personal privacy happened and why," Blumenthal told BBC News "We will take all appropriate steps, including potential legal action if warranted, to obtain complete, comprehensive answers."

According to a statement emailed to members of the media, Google spokesperson Christine Chen said that the technology firm is cooperating with the investigation. "It was a mistake for us to include code in our software that collected payload data, but we believe we did nothing illegal," she added.

The two sides are scheduled to meet on July 23.

In an article published Thursday, British officials confirmed to BBC News that they were preparing to launch their own investigation, to determine whether Google violated laws in that country as well.

The Street View cars were launched in 2006, and while Google will continue to use the vehicles, they will "no longer collect any Wi-Fi information at all, but will continue to collect photos and 3D imagery as they did before," Vice President of Engineering Brian McClendon wrote earlier this month in a blog. All Wi-Fi data collection equipment "has been removed from" the cars, adds the AFP.


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