Google Maps

Google will hand data to watchdog

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 May, 2010, 12:00am


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Personal data mistakenly collected by Google cars over the past three years for its Street View service will be handed to the Privacy Commissioner to examine and destroy.

Representatives from the search engine giant met Roderick Woo Bun in his office yesterday after admitting last week that it had collected and recorded unencrypted Wi-fi data when only Wi-fi locations should have been recorded as its cars drove around various cities compiling data for Google Maps.

The data might include e-mails or details about which websites a person had visited.

'As privacy commissioner of Hong Kong, I demanded Google release all the personal information that it collected through its cars for me to examine,' Woo said after the meeting, which he said was conducted harmoniously. 'This information will be obliterated afterwards. Google also promised that similar incidents will not occur again in the future.'

Woo signed an agreement with Google in which the company promised to suspend its street cars until it fixed the problem.

Woo said Google would also carry out an internal check on the workflow of the incident to study how the mistake happened and why it was not discovered for three years.

'Results of the check will be passed to us and disclosed to the public,' Woo said, adding that Google had appointed an independent third party to scrutinise the software that led to the mistake.

Google said after the meeting that it had nothing new to add. A company spokesman said: 'As we stated in our blog post the other day, we plan to work with the authorities in the relevant countries to answer their questions and delete the data as quickly as possible.'

Google is reaching out to data protection authorities from relevant countries around the globe about how to dispose of the personal data as quickly as possible.

Upon a request by the Irish Data Protection Authority, all data collected by error there had already been deleted, a Google spokesman said.

In a Google blog post released last Friday, the company's senior vice-president of engineering and research, Alan Eustace, said the collection of personal data by the cars was not intentional. The error occurred because the company wrongly embedded a code that samples all categories of data on unsecured Wi-fi networks.

A part of Google Maps, Street View is a service that allows users to experience 360-degree street-level views through real photographs. It is now available in more than 200 cities, including Hong Kong, Macau, Taipei, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Paris and Madrid. The service was launched in Hong Kong in March.

To capture the images in Hong Kong and southern parts of Macau, the Street View car in question drove 7,912 kilometres in Hong Kong (the equivalent of 3,663 trips along the Tsing Ma Bridge) and 1,293 kilometres in Macau (or 208 rides around the Guia race circuit), according to Google statistics.