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British regulators reopen Google Street View investigation

June 12, 2012|By Salvador Rodriguez
  • A car is equipped with cameras that collect images for Google's Street View, which will once again be investigated by a British government office.
A car is equipped with cameras that collect images for Google's Street… (Walter Bieri / Associated…)

Privacy concerns about Google's Street View are back on center stage after a British regulatory agency announced it was reopening an investigation into the program.

The British Information Commissioner's Office said Monday that Google had questions to answer regarding why its program was collecting passwords, e-mails and other data.

Street View is Google's feature within its Google Maps service that lets users get an on-location look at a place with pictures from the real world. The images used in Street View are collected by cars and other vehicles Google outfits with cameras that go around snapping shots.

But it seems the cars were also intercepting information from people's wireless networks.

The investigation is reopening after being closed since late 2010. News broke that year of Google's information gathering, but the Information Commissioner's Office let the search company off the hook after Google said the capture of the data was unintentional.

"We did not want this data, have never used any of it on our products and services, and have sought to delete it as quickly as possible," Google said then, according to the Associated Press.

But Steve Eckersley, the British agency's enforcement chief, said the office was reopening the investigation after the U.S. Federal Communications Commission earlier this year reported that Google's data collection was being conducted purposefully by an employee and that his peers were aware of the collecting.

Eckersley said the Information Commissioner's Office demanded copies of Google's software design document, company memos and a substantial explanation for why Google hadn't provided the information before. Eckersley made these announcements in a letter sent to Google and posted on the office's website Monday.

Should the agency see fit it has the power to fine companies as much as 500,000 pounds, or $780,000.

But Google said in a statement that it was prepared to comply.

"We're happy to answer the ICO's questions," a Google statement reads. "We have always said that the project leaders did not want and did not use this payload data. Indeed, they never even looked at it."

The news comes at a bad moment for Google as Apple has just announced it is giving Google Maps the boot as the iPhone's default mapping app. With its own Flyover feature, Apple will launch its Maps app when iOS 6 is released later this year, directly challenging Google Maps and, by extension, Street View too.

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