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Google: "We're sorry"

In response to the Australian Privacy Commissioner's investigation of Google's collection of unsecured WiFi payload data by Street View vehicles in Australia, the company has issued an apology.

In response to the Australian Privacy Commissioner's investigation of Google's collection of unsecured WiFi payload data by Street View vehicles in Australia, the company has issued an apology.

The apology is published on the company's official Australian blog

A couple of years ago, Google started collecting WiFi network information via our Street View cars to improve location-based services like search and maps. In May, we announced that we had also mistakenly been collecting publicly broadcast payload data (information sent over the network). To be clear, we did not want and have never used any payload data in our products or services--and as soon as we discovered our error, we announced that we would stop collecting all WiFi data via our Street View vehicles and removed all WiFi reception equipment from them.

In Australia, we have been working with the Privacy Commissioner to support her investigation into what happened. We welcome today's conclusion of this investigation, and as a result we have committed to working even more closely with them going forward on the privacy implications of our product launches.

We want to reiterate to Australians that this was a mistake for which we are sincerely sorry. Maintaining people's trust is crucial to everything we do and we have to earn that trust every single day. We are acutely aware that we failed badly here.

As well as issuing this apology, Google has to:

  • Undertake to conduct a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) on any new Street View data collection activities in Australia that include personal information.
  • Provide a copy of these PIAs to my Office.
  • Regularly consult with the Australian Privacy Commissioner about personal data collection activities arising from significant product launches in Australia.

Personally, I find it hard to believe that Google could be collecting this information and information and not be aware of it. Something went badly wrong here and the company has so far failed to adequately explain what went wrong here.

On the upside, the incident has made more people aware of the risks (and stupidity) of running an unsecured WiFi network.

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