Google facing police probe over Wi-Fi data collection

24th Jun 2010

London’s Metropolitan Police is the latest to join a long list of public authorities probing whether Google breached privacy regulations by gathering information from open Wi-Fi access points for its StreetView service.

According to the Guardian, the vendor was assigned the crime reference number 2318672/10 after pressure group Privacy International (PI) formally requested an investigation to see whether the search giant should face criminal charges for its data collection activities.

Google, which enables users of its website to click on maps providing 360 degree views of streets across the world, is already being investigated by European regulators and the US Federal Trade Commission for similar practices elsewhere. France, Australia, Spain and Germany are likewise looking into the issue, while as many as 30 US states have said that they may follow suit.

A London police spokesperson told Bloomberg Businessweek: "This matter is now under consideration and it is yet to be determined what, if any, offenses may have occurred. The complaint alleges illegal access to ‘online activities broadcast over unprotected home and business WiFi networks’."

The initial probe is expected to take eight to 10 days, after which time the police may choose to forward the complaint on to the Crown Prosecution Service for further investigation.

A spokeswoman for Google, which stopped its StreetView vehicles from taking photographs and gathering data from wireless network hubs last month, said: "As we have said before, this was a mistake. We are working with the relevant authorities to answer their questions and concerns."

But Simon Davies, PI’s told the Guardian: "We hope that this difficult process will give Google pause for thought about how it conducts itself. Perhaps in future, the company will rely less on PR spin and more on good governance and reliable product oversight."

The vendor has, meanwhile, also come under fire from the UK’s largest recording industry association, the BPI. It has sent Google a cease-and-desist order, asking it to remove links to nine ‘one-click hosting’ sites, each of which, it claims, hosts thousands of illegal songs.

The BPI’s complaint refers to 38 links that it alleges are available via Google’s search engine, although the supplier does not host any of the offending web sites itself. The body has requested that such links be removed as soon as possible “as they directly link to sound recordings owned by members”.

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