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Google`s Gaffe

Posted August. 12, 2010 08:57,   


Multidimensional maps on the Web and smartphones can give a user the feeling of walking to the site they want to go. The maps allow users to look around a travel site in all directions and review the living conditions of a neighborhood they will move into. Google’s “Street View” launched in the U.S. in 2007 provides such services. Korea’s Web portal Daum will expand its “Road View” service throughout the country next month. Since October last year, Google Korea has taken photos of Korean streets using three cars equipped with nine cameras each to launch the map service this year. The work was suspended, however, after Google was alleged to have collected Wi-Fi-related information as well using those cars.

Germany’s Data Protection Authority raised the allegation in May. The cars are equipped not only with cameras but also with devices designed to gather location and Wi-Fi data. Surprisingly, Google collected Wi-Fi network addresses, e-mail of individual users, and Web search records as well as multidimensional images of streets and buildings through such devices, according to the German data watchdog.

Google initially denied the allegation but later came clean, saying it was a mistake but denying using the collected data illegally. The Web portal giant is also found to have collected personal data without permission in 30 countries, including those in Europe, Australia and Canada. After the confession, Google Korea also acknowledged the possibility of having made the same mistake since it also uses the same equipment. It said it neither read the collected e-mail nor exploited them, but collection of personal data without permission is in and of itself illegal. Had the company intercepted signals, it would face harsh punishment. A police cyber-terrorism response team raided the offices of Google Korea Tuesday to investigate data the company allegedly collected without permission.

Google’s equipment, however, failed to infiltrate wireless access points with security settings. If users strengthen security measures, they can protect their personal data. If personal identification numbers in Wi-Fi access points are not set, personal data are at risk of being leaked as well as unauthorized users being able to access Wi-Fi for free. The Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission said Daum’s equipment for its Road View service did not collect Wi-Fi information.

Editorial Writer Hong Kwon-hee (konihong@donga.com)