Google's privacy controversy over Wi-Fi snooping hasn't been settled, but that's not stopping the company from resuming Street View image collection in four countries starting next week. The move follows the removal of Wi-Fi data collection equipment from its Street View cars that thrust Google into a privacy spotlight worldwide for its data collection policies.
Google on Friday announced on its European Public Policy Blog that it will be resuming collecting photos and 3-D imagery for the Street View service in Ireland, Norway, South Africa, and Sweden — only this time, without snooping on Wi-Fi information.
These countries have finalized their inquiries into Google's data-gathering, and Street View driving would resume in more countries, as ongoing investigations are settled.
The search giant admitted in May that it has collected Wi-Fi payload data from unprotected wireless networks across the globe while Street View cars roamed the streets to gather imagery for the mapping service. Google said the incident was a mistake, and blamed old software code in its systems.
Google now says that it has removed the Wi-Fi scanning equipment from its Street View cars, and claims that an independent security company approved the new gear installed on the cars collecting imagery.
The company was also eager to stress that it is not the only one collecting street-level imagery, pointing the finger toward Microsoft, which partnered with NavTeq to provide images for Bing maps's Streetside, and TeleAtlas. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)
Snooping controversy not over
When the Street View cars drove past an unsecured Wi-Fi network, Google potentially gathered parts of e-mails, text or photographs. What data was collected exactly is yet unknown, but authorities in several countries have asked the company to audit the data.
Nonprofit Consumer Watchdog claims that it has retraced some of the routes taken by Google's Street View cars, and found that four residences of U.S. Congress members it checked had vulnerable networks, according to a BBC report. One of them was Congressman Henry Waxman, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over Internet issues.
Australian authorities also said on Friday that Google's Wi-Fi snooping broke the country's privacy law. Google will not incur any penalties, as Australia's Privacy Act does not allow the commissioner to impose sanctions or fines. Google apologized on its official Australian blog for the mistake.