Google Issues Formal Apology

Search engine giant Google apologizes for snooping on users.

For a high-tech company that deals more in data than old-fashioned nuts, bolts and sheet metal, Google Inc. has been getting a lot of attention for its car business. Google says the Street View cars it uses to photograph homes and gather a range of navigational and other data, also mistakenly grabbed other information including emails, URLs and passwords.

Many of us have marveled at how we Google’s mapping services allow us to look at panoramic pictures of our own homes. The images are the work of Street View cars that cruise neighborhoods taking photographs and recording other data.

But now investigations by numerous regulators around the world and by Google itself reveal the cars crossed the line in some cases by delving into certain personal information that should have been kept private.

Last week Google announced it was going to upgrade their privacy practices after it became known that the company had unwittingly snapped up bits and pieces of WiFi data that had been left unencrypted by its Street View cars.

While the data was mostly fragmented sometimes entire emails were snagged. At that point, Google says, it had about 600 gigabytes of data captured by the cars that it had not examined. It has since found that the data, while largely “fragmentary,” in some cases included complete email addresses, URLs and passwords. The Internet search giant says it intends to delete the data as soon as possible.

Among the ways the company has said it will avoid this happening again, they’ve appointed a new director in charge of privacy. Alma Whiten will be responsible for implementing the new privacy practices as well as new training for technicians to make sure they know how to avoid accidently getting the unprotected data. News of the data being snapped up in the unintentional dragnet came to light earlier this year and has resulted in several class action suits against the company.

While the company has officially apologized, Whiten and Google still say the best way to avoid this sort of situation is to make sure any new or existing WiFi network is properly configured and password protected.

If you want to know how Googles street mapping is done, here’s some “easy to understand” information:

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