Google 'mortified' that Street View cars collected e-mail, passwords

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By Cecilia Kang
Monday, October 25, 2010; 7:08 AM

It turns out Google's Street View cars found out more about Internet users than previously acknowledged. Last Friday, the company said the cars, which roam the world taking pictures for its location-based applications, scarfed up e-mail addresses, URLs and passwords from residential Wi-Fi networks they passed by in dozens of countries.

And while Google said it was "mortified" by its discovery, apologized again, and announced some measures to beef up privacy awareness within its ranks, the admission could expose the company to greater global scrutiny, fines and potential lawsuits, experts said.

Over the weekend, the British government launched a fresh investigation into the Street Cars data breach. Italy demanded that Google give residents several days notice before its cars roam their neighborhoods, Reuters reported. Regulators in France, Germany and Spain have begun inverstigations of their own. More than 30 state attorneys general in the United States also have launched a joint probe. And Epic, a privacy advocacy group, urged the Federal Communications Commission to initiate a breach of privacy investigation of Wi-Fi communications networks.

Last May, Google said its Street View cars accidentally picked up some unencrypted information about Wi-Fi networks it was also tracking with the cars.

In Friday's blog post, the company said the fragments of Internet user data the cars had picked up included entire e-mail addresses, Web page URLs and passwords.

"We want to delete this data as soon as possible, and I would like to apologize again for the fact that we collected it in the first place," wrote Alan Eustace, a senior vice president of engineering and research.

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