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UK Clears Google on Wi-Fi Data Gathering

The United Kingdoms’ Information Commissioner Office (ICO) has found (PDF) that Google did not collect “significant” amounts of personal information when gathering information about Wi-Fi networks as it drove around snapping images for its Street View service. Instead, the agency found that the data was gathered unintentionally by Google from unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots as its Street View vehicles drove around.

“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,” the ICO wrote in its findings. “There is also no evidence—as yet—that the data captured by Google has caused or could cause any individual detriment.”

Nonetheless, the ICO says Google was wrong to gather the information in the first place, however unintentionally.

The finding is good news for Google, which has taken heat to collecting data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks during the course of its Street View imaging project. Google admitted it had been doing so for over four years, and that data included things like snippets of email messages, addresses, and other tiny snapshots of users’ wireless activity. Although reports have the data amounting to some 600 GB of information from unsecured wireless networks in dozens of countries, Google claims the information was never accessible, and certainly never searchable or published. Google is continuing its Street View operating, but says it is no longer gathering Wi-Fi information as it goes.

Google remains under investigation by the UK’s Metropolitan police; investigations are also underway in Germany, France, Spain, and Australia: French authorities have said that it found potentially sensitive information, including passwords, in a preliminary examination of Wi-Fi data Google gathered.

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