Google Street View gets back on the road

The cars will be back collecting pictorial data in Ireland, Norway, South Africa and Sweden next week, after being pulled up over collection of people's Wi-Fi data
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Google's Street View cars are hitting the road again, after being sidelined in May over their unauthorised collection of people's Wi-Fi data.

The cars will go to work in Ireland, Norway, South Africa and Sweden next week, after Google cleared it with the relevant regulators, the company said in a blog post on Friday All of the vehicles' Wi-Fi data collection equipment, which included hardware and software, have been completely removed, it added.

"Our cars will no longer collect any Wi-Fi information at all, but will continue to collect photos and 3D imagery as they did before," said Google Geo engineering vice president Brian McClendon in the blog post.

The cars were returned to the garage after they were found to have collected Wi-Fi data from unsecured home networks as they drove the streets. Google said the harvesting of the information, which it called 'payload data', was unintentional. French data protection authorities later found that Google had collected passwords and fragments of emails.

Google has faced a number of investigations by data protection authorities over the collection of the Wi-Fi data. German, French and Spanish data watchdogs were among the first to request harvested data from Google, while law enforcement bodies including the UK police are investigating whether Google breached any national laws. Australian data protection authorities found that any collection of personal data would have breached privacy law.

Street View 360-degree photos are used to update local business listings in Google Maps, while the 3D images are collected with low-power lasers, said McClendon. He noted that other companies — such as TeleAtlas and NavTeq (for Microsoft's Bing) — also collect photographic and 3D images.

"We recognise that serious mistakes were made in the collection of Wi-Fi payload data and we have worked to quickly rectify them," said McClendon. "However, we also believe that Street View is a great product for users."

Google Street View cars have met with hostility in the past and villagers in the Buckinghamshire town of Broughton brought one to a halt in 2009 over privacy and crime fears. A Google spokesperson told ZDNet UK that Google did not anticipate any issues with the public following the reintroduction of the cars.

"We believe Street View is an incredibly valuable service that has been popular wherever we have launched it," said the spokesperson.

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