‘We Failed Badly,’ Google Executive Admits

Sat, Oct 23, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Google just goofed.

    The Internet giant apologized on Friday for accidentally collecting confidential information such as e-mails and passwords in countries including the U.S., Canada and Britain.

    Google Street View cars picked up the data through wireless networks while taking photographs in various cities.

    “We’re acutely aware that we failed badly here,” Alan Eustace, senior vice president of engineering and research, said in a blog post. “We want to delete this data as soon as possible.”

    Google blamed faulty software, which was supposed to record the location of wireless networks. Google could then use the information to provide location-based services such as driving directions on Google Maps.
    Due to a stray piece of code, the software ended up gathering information being sent across networks that weren’t password-protected.

    “While most of the data is fragmentary, in some instances entire e-mails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords,” Eustace wrote. “We are mortified by what happened.”

    Google faces U.S. lawsuits worth millions of dollars related to the gathering of private information, according to Agence-France Presse.

    Authorities in Canada have accused the company of accessing confidential medical information, while hundreds of thousands of Germans have asked that their homes be removed from Google Street View.

    Italian authorities have ordered Google to clearly mark its Street View cars and publicize their itineraries, according to Reuters.

    In the Czech Republic, the government has simply banned the cars, saying they violate privacy.

    In his blog post, Eustace announced that Google is taking measures to tighten privacy controls across the company. These include special training and the appointment of Alma Whitten as director of privacy across engineering and product management. Eustace described Whitten as an “internationally recognized expert in the computer science field of privacy and security.”

    Consumer Watchdog, a non-profit group that monitors Google’s privacy work, reacted with skepticism.

    “Maybe some Google executives are beginning to get it: privacy matters. The reality, though, is that the company’s entire culture needs to change, ” John Simpson, director of the group’s Inside Google Project, said in a statement.

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