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British privacy watchdog gets tougher in Wi-Spy scandal

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Mon, Oct 25, 2010 at 11:13 am

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British privacy watchdog gets tougher in Wi-Spy scandal

The United Kingdom privacy watchdog has finally joined eighteen other nations in investigating Google for its Wi-Spying, the Internet giant’s clandestine acquisition of personal user information from wireless networks while taking photographs for its Street View mapping service.

The Guardian reports that the Information Commissioners Office announced the investigation last week after Canada’s privacy office said Google committed “a serious violation of the law” in collecting such information in Canada.

The British investigation comes as  Google has apologized again for the Street View collection techniques. Alan Eustace, vice-president of engineering and research, admitted that the company had captured emails and passwords, information that the company says it wants to delete. Eustace also announced a series of moves intended to strengthen privacy controls within the company.

The ICO investigation marks a change for British authorities response to the Street View scandal. Last spring the United Kingdom’s information commission said it was unlikely that Google had collected “significant amounts of personal data” or data likely to “cause any individual detriment” looking increasingly conspicuous.

Privacy campaigners Big Brother Watch considered the conclusion “farcical” at the time. The ICO, it seems, has reconsidered.

The Australian privacy commissioner has already ruled that Google’s data capture broke the country’s privacy law,” calling it the “single greatest breach in the history of privacy”. Google also faces similar investigations in Spain and South Korea, among 18 other countries, according to a survey from the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington.

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This post was written by:

Glenn Simpson

- who has written 5 posts on Inside Google.

Glenn Simpson was an investigative reporter for The Wall Street Journal from 1995 to 2009 and is the recipient of several journalism awards. He covered American campaigns and Washington politics for more than two decades as well as the technology industry, digital privacy issues, antitrust, and the Federal Trade Commission. He is the co-author of Dirty Little Secrets: The Persistence of Corruption In American Politics. (Random House; 1996)

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