Google’s Street View cars, the vehicles which the company uses to create its Street View virtual mapping service on Google Maps, got into trouble as governments around the globe accused them of violating privacy laws. Back in May, Germany realized that the cars were scanning unsecured Wi-Fi networks and collecting private user data. South Korea was next. It was only a matter of time that Canada and Spain would complain over privacy issues as well.
The United States made some investigations and found that Google did indeed violate privacy law. Google’s Street View vehicles “inappropriately” collected personal information that included email addresses, usernames, passwords, names, telephone numbers, street addresses–even very sensitive information such as medical records!
Google has said that the data collection was inadvertent, the result of a programming error in a code developed in 2006 that gathered “payload data” from publicly broadcast Wi-Fi networks. According to Canadian officials, the engineer who created the code did identify “superficial privacy implications” at the time. However, Google never assessed the issue because the engineer neglected to forward the code design documents to the company’s lawyer responsible for the legal implications of the project. That “superficial” concern, in Germany, meant that Google “accidentally” collected 600 gigabytes of data from unsecured networks.