France became the latest country Thursday to probe Google for gathering personal data as its Street View bikes and cars photographed cities across the world for the controversial mapping service.
The French data protection agency CNIL said it was examining private data collected for Street View, including emails and possibly banking details, to decide if the firm should face criminal charges or other sanctions.
Street View lets users view panoramic street scenes on Google Maps and take a virtual "walk" through cities such as New York, Paris or Hong Kong.
The service, which began in 2006, first came in for criticism for threatening the privacy of people caught - sometimes in embarrassing situations - in the photos taken by cars cruising cities in over 30 countries.
But when it emerged that Google's cars and bikes had also been gathering fragments of personal data sent over unsecured Wi-Fi systems, legal action and official probes were quickly announced across the world.
CNIL chairman Alex Turk said Google sent its data to the French agency on June 4 after the CNIL requested it, and said that by September he hoped to be able to decide whether or not the Internet giant should face any sanctions.
Passwords for email accounts and other secret information were among the data currently being examined by the CNIL, Turk told reporters as he presented the agency's annual report.
The content being examined was likely to include "data that are normally covered by ... banking and medical privacy rules," he said, adding that it appeared the information was gathered over a two-year period.
The CNIL can issue a simple warning, impose a fine or can hand a case over to the prosecutor's office for it to decide whether criminal charges should be brought.
Google is facing civil suits in Oregon and several other US states demanding millions of dollars in damages over its collection of personal wireless data in alleged violation of local and federal privacy laws.
Canada's privacy commissioner is probing the collection of data by Street View vehicles, while police in both New Zealand and Australia said this month they would investigate the Internet giant over alleged privacy breaches.
In Europe, Germany, Austria, Italy and France are among the countries investigating whether their citizens' privacy has been breached by the California-based company.
Google said last month it was halting the collection of WiFi network information after saying it had mistakenly gathered personal data.
It had insisted previously that it was only collecting WiFi network names and addresses with the Street View cars.
Google on June 1 said it had deleted private wireless data mistakenly collected in Austria, Denmark and Ireland.
Street View cars have been collecting WiFi data in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Macau, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United States.Reuse content