Google has said sorry after admitting to collecting data of people’s online activity from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks.
The revelations sparked concerns over privacy, but the search engine operator claims the incident was a “mistake”.
The admission from Google came after German authorities requested to audit data the company’s Street View cars had gathered. The data could include emails and which website a person has viewed.
The Street View concept photographs streets and gathers 3D images of cities and towns around the world. The cars used to collect the data are fitted with antennas that scan local Wi-Fi networks and use the data for its location services.
In a blog post, Alan Eustace, senior vice-president, engineering and research at Google said the request from the German authorities prompted it to re-examine everything it had been collecting, adding that it had now discovered it had been “mistakenly collecting samples of payload data from open (i.e. non-password-protected) WiFi networks, even though we never used that data in any Google products”.
Mr Eustace added: “So how did this happen? Quite simply, it was a mistake.”
Google added that as soon as it became aware of the problem, it grounded Street View cars. “We want to delete this data as soon as possible, and are currently reaching out to regulators in the relevant countries about how to quickly dispose of it,” the search engine operator added.
“The engineering team at Google works hard to earn your trust-and we are acutely aware that we failed badly here. We are profoundly sorry for this error and are determined to learn all the lessons we can from our mistake,” Mr Eustace concluded.
But John Simpson from the Consumer Watchdog has said that appropriate government agencies must now ensure the data is appropriately deleted.
“Once again Google has demonstrated a lack of concern for privacy,” said Mr Simpson.
“Its computer engineers run amok, push the envelope and gather whatever data they can until their fingers are caught in the cookie jar. Then a Google executive apologizes, mouthing bafflegab about how privacy matters to the company.
“The takeaway from this incident is the clear need for government oversight and regulation of the data all online companies gather and store,” he added.