German prosecutors probe Google over Street View
German prosecutors said Wednesday they had launched a probe into Google after the firm admitted to mistakenly gathering personal data with its controversial "Street View" mapping service.
A spokesman for the prosecutor's office in the northern city of Hamburg said it had launched an investigation into the Internet giant on suspicion of computer crime following a lawyer's complaint against its German subsidiary.
"It is not yet clear whether a specific crime has been committed," the spokesman told AFP.
Illegal interception of data is punishable in Germany with a fine or up to two years in prison under a law that entered the books in 2007.
Google said last week that it was halting the collection of WiFi network information for Street View after admitting it inadvertently gathered personal data sent via unsecured systems.
It had insisted previously that it was only collecting WiFi network names and addresses with the Street View cars that have been cruising cities in more than 30 countries taking photographs for the Google Maps service.
German authorities have been among the chief critics of Google for its collection of WiFi network information by Street View, which began in 2006.
The service allows users to view panoramic street scenes on Google Maps and "walk" through cities such as New York, Paris or Hong Kong.
German consumer affairs minister Ilse Aigner slammed the company's practices again this week, accusing it of logging into private online networks.
Last month, Aigner and Google reached an accord under which the company would only provide Street View images from Germany after it had addressed thorny privacy concerns.
Germany is especially sensitive to privacy issues due to grievous abuses by the Nazis and East German communists in the past.
© 2010 AFP