Google says Street View cars got email, passwords

Fri Oct 22, 2010 3:01pm EDT

* Company says entire emails, passwords and URLs captured

* Google says wants to delete data as soon as possible

* Privacy director to overseee engineering, products

SAN FRANCISCO, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Google Inc (GOOG.O) acknowledged that a fleet of cars equipped with wireless equipment inadvertently collected emails and passwords of computer users in various countries, and said it was changing its privacy practices.

Google said it wants delete the data as soon as possible. Google announced the data collection snafu in May, but said at the time the information it collected was typically limited to "fragements" of data because the cars were always moving.

Since then, regulators in several of the more than 30 countries where the cars operated have inspected the data.

"It's clear from those inspections that while most of the data is fragmentary, in some instances entire emails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords," said Google Vice President of Engineering and Research Alan Eustace in a post on Google's blog on Friday.

Google said it has appointed Alma Whitten as director of privacy for engineering and product management, and that the company was adding new internal procedures requiring engineering product managers to maintain a privacy design document that records how user data is handled.

Google also said it was enhancing its privacy training for engineers and other important groups within the company.

Google's Street View cars, which are well known for crisscrossing the globe and taking panoramic pictures of the city's streets, collected the data. The company displays the pictures in its online street maps.

Collecting the WiFi data was unrelated to the Google Maps project, and was done so Google could amass data on WiFi hotspots that could help provide location-based services.

Google said collecting the additional data was a mistake resulting from a piece of computer code from an experimental project that was accidentally included. (Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic. Editing by Robert MacMillan)

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