Google finally admits that its Street View cars DID take emails and passwords from computers
By Vanessa Allen
Last updated at 8:33 AM on 25th October 2010
Google was accused of spying on households yesterday after it admitted secretly copying passwords and private emails from home computers. The internet search giant was forced to confess it had downloaded personal data during its controversial Street View project, when it photographed virtually every street in Britain.
In an astonishing invasion of privacy, it admitted entire emails, web pages and even passwords were 'mistakenly collected' by antennae on its high-tech Street View cars. Privacy campaigners accused the company of spying and branded its behaviour 'absolutely scandalous'. The Information Commissioner's Office said it would launch a new investigation. Scotland Yard is already considering whether the company has broken the law.
Google executive Alan Eustace issued a grovelling apology and said the company was 'mortified', adding: 'We're acutely aware that we failed badly.'
Critics seized on the admission as the latest example of technology's ever-expanding ability to harvest information about ordinary households, often without their knowledge or consent.
Google sent a fleet of specially equipped cars around Britain in 2008, armed with 360-degree cameras to gather photographs for its Street View project. There were immediate complaints that the pictures were a security risk, after householders complained that house numbers and car registrations were easily identifiable. Privacy fears followed when it emerged that individuals could be seen, including a man emerging from a sex shop in London's Soho, three police officers arresting a man in Camden, North London, and children throwing stones at a house in Musselburgh, Scotland.
Earlier this year the California-based firm admitted that the cars' antennae had also scanned for wireless networks, including home wi-fi, which connect millions of personal computers to the internet.
Google registered the location, name and identification code of millions of networks and entered them into a database to help it sell adverts.
The firm - which uses the slogan 'Don't be evil' - was able to record the location of every wireless router and network without alerting households because wi-fi signals are 'visible' to other internet devices, including the cars' antennae.