8 Jun 2010

Australian government puts police onto Google

8:58 am on 8 June 2010

The Australian Government has instigated a police investigation of the internet company Google over alleged breaches of privacy.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy last month accused Google of committing the single greatest breach in the history of privacy by collecting information from people's wireless networks as it was taking photographs for its Street View program, which shows 360-degree views of most streets on Google Maps.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland says his department has received numerous complaints about it. Google says it mistakenly collected the data and has apologised.

The same thing was done in New Zealand, but after the Privacy Commissioner demanded an explanation Google apologised here as well and said it had stopped the practice.

Australia's Telecommunications Interception Act prevents people accessing electronic information other than for authorised purposes.

'Fragments of personal data' collected

The ABC reports that information about wi-fi networks is used by many companies, including Nokia, to improve GPS performance on mobile devices and provide a more accurate location, particularly in cities where satellite signals can be blocked by tall buildings.

Though legitimately taking photos for Street View, Google was criticised for collecting too much information, including fragments of personal data.

It also faces litigation in several American states and has been ordered by a US federal judge to turn over copies of all private US wireless data it captured.

Senior vice-president Alan Eustace says on Google's official blog that the software code responsible for collecting the data was used by mistake, and that all Street View cars were grounded when the mistake was discovered.