S. Korean police say Google collected private data illegally

The private data was allegedly collected while Google produced its Street View mapping service

South Korea has concluded that Google illegally collected personal data while collecting information for its Street View map service, an official at the country's National Police Agency (NPA) said on Thursday.

The official, who declined to be named, said the agency is in the process of conducting interviews with Google executives, but would not comment on whether arrests could follow.

A report from the Yonhap News Agency in Seoul on Thursday quoted an official of the NPA as saying that decoded hard drives were found to contain personal e-mails and text messages that individual Internet users exchanged through Wi-Fi networks.

A cyber crime investigation unit at the NPA has been analyzing hard drives and related documents seized from a raid on Google's Korean unit in August last year.

Data protection authorities in a number of countries are investigating Google's Street View service, after the company said last year that its camera cars mistakenly collected data from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks while compiling images of city streets for its Google Maps site.

The company initially said in April last year that it had collected only the Wi-Fi network names and MAC (media access control) addresses, but not data from unencrypted Wi-Fi connections. That data helps it locate users of its mobile services when they connect over a Wi-Fi network.

"As soon as we realized what had happened, we stopped collecting all Wi-Fi data from our Street View cars and immediately informed the authorities," a Google representative said Thursday.

The police in South Korea plan to file criminal charges against company executives who allegedly ordered the infraction, but need more time to identify the people responsible, according to the news report.

The police have meanwhile summoned some 10 company officials, but they denied the charges, saying they were only carrying out orders from Google's main office, Yonhap quoted investigators as saying.

"We have been cooperating with the Korean Communications Commission and the police, and will continue to do so. Our ultimate objective remains to delete the data consistent with our legal obligations and in consultation with the appropriate authorities," said the Google representative.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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