Google’s Street View cars will hit the road again next week for the first time since it caused outcry with revelations it had been collecting data from unsecured wireless networks.
The search company is still under investigation in several countries, but it says independent security experts have confirmed that it has removed from its vehicles the equipment that intercepted snippets of e-mails and web-browsing information from unsecured WiFi hotspots.
In a blog post, Brian McClendon, vice-president of engineering at Google Geo, said its cars would resume photographing streets and gathering other information for Street View in Ireland, Norway, South Africa and Sweden.
“We expect to add more countries in time,” Mr McClendon said. “Our cars will no longer collect any WiFi information at all, but will continue to collect photos and 3D imagery as they did before.”
Google grounded its fleet of Street View cars in May when it discovered that its system for identifying the location of WiFi networks had for three years been intercepting the data travelling over them.
Although Google no longer collects the names of hotspots and other information about wireless networks, other companies are still gathering and selling such information.
Street View cars will still take photos for its maps, which provide 360º imagery of locations and are mined for names of streets and shops to improve Google’s local business listings.
It also uses “low power lasers” to collect “geometry data”, allowing Google Maps to render buildings in 3D. Google says rivals such as Microsoft’s Bing, which incorporates data from Nokia’s NavTeq, and TeleAtlas, owned by TomTom, collect data in much the same way.
Even before its WiFi-related error came to light, Google’s information gathering through Street View was causing it legal problems in some countries. Last November, Swiss data protection officials took Google to court, because they felt the company had not done enough to make people’s faces and car number plates unrecognisable.
Google was forced to issue a further apology in Australia yesterday after the Australian privacy commisioner said that its data collection broke the law.
“Collecting personal information in these circumstances is a very serious matter. Australians should reasonably expect that private communications remain private,” said Karen Curtis, the commisioner.
Google said it was “sincerely sorry” and pledged to consult with the Australian authorities over new product launches. “We are acutely aware that we failed badly here,” Google said in a blog post.
Conducting its own tests in the US, Consumer Watchdog, a campaign group, found that several members of Congress, including some with responsibility for security, could have had data from unsecured wireless networks intercepted by Google.
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