(Ars Technica) -- Authorities in both Germany and the US are expected to begin inquiries into Google's "accidental" collection of Wi-Fi payload data by its Street View cars.
German commissioner for data protection Peter Schaar has asked for a detailed probe of the incident while consumer group Consumer Watchdog has demanded that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission look into Google's activities on this side of the pond.
The furor erupted after Google admitted on Friday that its Street View cars had been collecting more data than the company realized.
The cars are supposed to only take photos of the street and collect basic Wi-Fi information, such as the SSIDs and MAC addresses of WiFi routers.
The Wi-Fi data was to be used in Google's location-based services, and Google argued last month that it only collected the same data that was publicly available to anyone walking down the street with a Wi-Fi device. Google insisted that it did not collect any kind of IP or packet data in the course of its Wi-Fi collections.
That turned out to be mostly untrue. The company announced last week that it discovered a "mistake" in the code being used to collect info and that it was, in fact, collecting some information on who was visiting what websites on which Wi-Fi networks.
Google said that the data was never used in any capacity and that it had no plans to keep the unwanted data around. The company said it was looking to destroy the data immediately with the help of an independent review (an update to Google's blog post from Friday indicates that data collected in Ireland has already been deleted).
The company also said that it would stop collecting any information about Wi-Fi networks in light of this discovery.
Schaar doesn't appear to believe Google, characterizing its explanation as "highly unusual."
"One of the largest companies in the world, the market leader on the internet, simply disobeyed normal rules in the development and usage of software," he told the Financial Times.
Similarly, Consumer Watchdog described Google's actions as a "flagrant intrusion intoconsumers' privacy" and noted that it only came to light because Google was being questioned by European regulators. The group called on the FTC to document what Google had gathered and what has been done with the data.
"Google has demonstrated a history of pushing the envelope and then apologizing when its overreach is discovered," consumer advocate John Simpson said in a statement. "Given its recent record of privacy abuses, there is absolutely no reason to trust anything the Internet giant claims about its data collection policies."
Simpson has a point; Google does have a tendency to go a little too far with users' privacy when it pushes out new services, as it did recently with the Buzz launch.
However, if we take Google's explanation at face value, the Street View Wi-Fi debacle was little more than a huge and outrageously careless oversight -- not an intentional privacy-harming feature rollout like Buzz. Google has really done a number on itself this time, and regulators may look askance at its voluntary admission given the company's history.
Update: German authorities have demanded that Google hand over the hard drives it used to store the data so that they can see exactly what's on them, according to the New York Times. Google has offered to destroy the data but not hand it over (yet, anyway), and Germany is not happy with that solution.
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