Germany has rebuked Internet search giant Google after the company admitted it accidentally collected personal data about unsecured Wi-Fi networks with its Street View mapping system.
Google's Street View cars were collecting more data than expected
Germany's Consumer Affairs Minister Ilse Aigner has sharply criticized Google for inadvertently collecting personal data.
"According to the information available to us so far, Google has for years penetrated private networks, apparently illegally," Aigner said in a statement on Saturday.
The "alarming incident" showed that Google still lacks understanding for the need for privacy, according to the statement.
Google's fleet of Street View cars, photographing streets for its online map program, has been collecting more data than previously thought. After reviewing a system in the cars that recorded names and addresses of wireless networks detected along the routes, Google revealed that a programming error had led to small amounts of personal data to be collected from unsecured Wi-Fi networks.
"It's now clear that we have been mistakenly collecting samples of payload data from open Wi-Fi networks," Google's head of engineering Alan Eustace said in a blog posting.
The blog post did not specify what kinds of personal data had been collected but indicated it could be things such as email and web browsing history. However, since the data had been collected by moving vehicles, only fragments of information were recorded. Google regretted its mistake and would look for a way to destroy the personal data.
"Maintaining people's trust is crucial to everything we do, and in this case we fell short," said Eustace in the blog post.
Google reviewed its data collection methods in response to an inquiry from the Data Protection Authority in Hamburg.
The Google Street View service allows users to "walk" along panoramic street views in many countries, using images recorded by specially-outfitted cars. The fleet of cars around the world has been halted for the time being as Google attempts to fix the glitch.
The Street View project is controversial in Germany due to privacy concerns.
Editor: Martin Kuebler