Google cleared in Britain over collection of private data

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Britain's data protection watchdog said Thursday Google had probably not captured "significant" private details in the country when its Street View cars grabbed data sent over wireless networks.

The Internet giant is being investigated in a number of countries after the cars, which drive around taking photos for Google's free online mapping service, mistakenly picked up the private information.

The British Information Commissioner's Office said it had visited Google's premises to review samples of the information, known as payload data, which were picked up after being sent over unsecured WiFi networks.

"On the basis of the samples we saw, we are satisfied so far that it is unlikely that Google will have captured significant amounts of personal data," said a spokesman for the data protection authority in a statement.

"There is also no evidence as yet that the data captured by Google has caused or could cause any individual detriment."

It said the data did not contain any "meaningful personal details that could be linked to an identifiable person."

But it did not let the Internet search engine off the hook entirely, saying it had been "wrong to collect the information."

The commissioner's office warned however that it would keep an eye on probes in other countries.

"We remain vigilant and will be reviewing any relevant findings and evidence from our international counterparts' investigations," it said.

Google welcomed the news and added: "As we said when we announced our mistake, we did not want, and have never used, any payload data in our products or services."

The Mountain View, California-based Internet search and advertising titan grounded all Street View cars in May after disclosing that they had mistakenly gathered snippets of private data.

They returned to the road this month in several countries but only after all wireless scanning equipment had been removed.

According to Google, Street View cars taking photographs of cities in more than 30 countries inadvertently gathered fragments of personal information.

Street View, which was launched in 2006, lets users view panoramic street scenes on Google Maps and take a virtual "walk" through cities such as New York, Paris or Hong Kong.

© 2010 AFP

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