Google Street View to be probed by UK privacy watchdog

28 May 2012

The UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) intends to reopen an investigation into the privacy impact of Google’s Street View cars after it emerged the vehicles gathered data from private Wi-Fi networks.

Google was fined US$25,000 recently by the Federal Communications Commission over revelations that the search giant’s Street View vehicles were illicitly gathering data from private Wi-Fi networks.

In 2010 the ICO decided that Google had violated UK data protection laws but no fine was issued.

An engineer is understood to have created a war driving programme called NetStumbler for Windows. War driving involves travelling around accessing wireless hot spots.

The ICO in the UK plans to study the FCC’s findings and will decide if further action is necessary.

Street View is one of Google’s most popular products and provides a 360-degree view of streets in villages, towns and cities across the world.

Compiling the Street View involved Google cars and trikes with cameras and a variety of other equipment driving around gathering the imagery.

But it emerged that Google’s Street View vehicles were gathering more than just photos; they were also gleaning information from Wi-Fi networks in homes and offices ostensibly to improve location-based searches.

Countries like Germany and Korea were up in arms after it emerged that the equipment was gathering unencrypted data sent from homes by computers such as emails and internet searches between 2007 and 2010.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years