Google agrees to delete private data gathered by Street View cars

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The Independent Online

Google has agreed to delete all the personal data its Street View cars collected from unsecured wireless networks and will introduce new training and guidance for its staff, the Information Commissioner said yesterday.

Christopher Graham said the search company intended to introduce improved training measures on security awareness and data-protection issues for all its employees. It will also require its engineers to maintain a privacy design document for every new project before it is launched.

Mr Graham said: "I am very pleased to have a firm commitment from Google to work with my office to improve its handling of personal information. We don't want another breach like the collection of payload data by Google Street View vehicles to occur.

"It is a significant achievement to have an undertaking from a major multinational corporation like Google Inc that extends to its global policies and not just its UK activities. We will be keeping a close watch on the progress Google makes and will follow up with an extensive audit. Meanwhile, I welcome the fact that the wifi payload data that should never have been collected in the first place can, at last, be deleted."

Mr Graham's deputy, David Smith, told the BBC there was no indication that any of the information collected by the vehicles "had fallen into the wrong hands" and that there would be no further enquiries into the matter.

He said there were no grounds for fining the company, adding: "We'd have had to find that there was substantial damage or distress to individuals from the collection of snippets of emails, URLs and passwords."

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) said it will conduct a full audit of Google's internal privacy structure, privacy-training programmes and its system of privacy reviews for new products within nine months.

The company had sparked an international outcry over claims that it was spying on people with its Street View mapping cars and technology. It was accused of unlawfully harvesting data including emails, passwords and website addresses during the creation of the popular product.

It led to dozens of enquiries across the world, with some countries offering detailed findings about the nature of the breaches. An investigation in Canada found that the Street View cars had captured a list of names of people suffering from certain medical conditions.

In Britain, MPs accused the company of deliberately collecting millions of passwords, websites and emails for commercial gain. It admitted collecting information from unsecured wireless networks as its vehicles roamed residential streets to create the mapping product.

The Metropolitan Police recently announced that they would not launch a criminal inquiry. The decision came after the United States Federal Trade Commission ruled out direct action while registering concerns that the information was collected.

A Google spokeswoman said: "We're pleased that the ICO have concluded their investigation and we will be working to delete the data as soon as possible."