Canada's privacy watchdog bites Google

Tue Oct 19, 2010 3:13pm EDT
 
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By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada's privacy watchdog accused Google Inc on Tuesday of violating the rights of thousands of Canadians by inappropriately collecting their personal information in building its Street View service.

Google must tighten its privacy protection systems to prevent a repeat of the incident, blamed on a careless software engineer, and should get rid of the data it accidentally collected, Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said.

"Our investigation shows that Google did capture personal information -- and, in some cases, highly sensitive personal information such as complete emails. This incident was a serious violation of Canadians' privacy rights," Stoddart said in a news release.

Google has found itself in the cross-hairs of privacy officials in several countries since it acknowledged in May that the fleet of cars used to take images for Street View were also collecting personal information from unsecured home wireless networks as they drove by.

Google officials said they were unaware that the computer code that allowed the "payload data" to be collected was in the Street View software when it was installed in cars, Stoddart said. The software took pictures of panoramic street-level scenes for Google's mapping service.

"This incident was the result of a careless error -- one that could easily have been avoided," the commissioner aid.

Stoddart set a February 1, 2011, deadline for Google to show it has followed her recommendations. She does not have the authority to fine the company, but can take her complaints to Federal Court.

GOOGLE APOLOGIZES   Continued...

 
<p>The Google Inc logo is projected on a screen during the unveiling of "Google Instant" at a news conference in San Francisco, California September 8, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith</p>