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Google in new privacy uproar

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13th Aug 2010
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Google is continuing to raise eyebrows in the privacy arena following a raid in its offices in South Korea, reports that it is experimenting with spy drones and the leak of a confidential document questioning how far it can go.

The seven-page privacy document, which was seen by the Wall Street Journal, is a "vision statement" of where Google may move to in the future, although it branded some of the ideas as "safe" and others "not safe".

The document, which was compiled towards the end of 2008 by employee Aitan Weinberg, was tagged as ‘Internal Confidential’ and raised the prospect of Google using assets such as Youtube, Orkut, Gmail and Checkout as vehicles for collecting advertising and other data, although it added that "appropriate privacy/anonymization techniques" would need to be put in place.

It also laid out a vision for a "data exchange in the future". "Google can build a data exchange/trading platform allowing individual data owners to transact with others directly, or openly sell their data to any bidders," the document said.

A third idea was potentially to merge all of the data that the search giant receives from a range of sources into a single repository, which it could then use to develop even more targeted adverts than it does currently.

In other news, Google denied reports by German business magazine Wirtschaftswoche that German firm Microdrones had sold it at least one of its flying surveillance robots for test purposes.

Sven Juerss, Microdrones’ chief executive, told the publication that the machines could be helpful in Google’s mapping projects and that there was a good chance that it would buy more.

One Google spokesperson told Forbes magazine: "This was a purchase by a Google executive with an interest in robotics for personal use," but another appeared to give a different version of events.

The editor of Wirtschaftswoche Stefan Keuchel posted the vendor’s official response to him at the end of the Forbes piece. It said: "We constantly look for ways to improve our mapping services such as Google Maps or Google Earth. As part of these efforts, we are researching many different technologies, but we are not testing or using them. Accordingly, we are not using drones for Google Maps, Google StreetView or Google Earth."

No mention was made of interested executives, however. The denial came as police in South Korea raided the firm’s Seoul headquarters as part of an investigation into the suspected collection and storage of unauthorised WiFi data by its StreetView cars.

South Korea is only one of many countries probing potential privacy breaches in this area.

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