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Sergey Brin: 'We screwed up' on Street View Wi-Fi grab

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Google I/O Google co-founder Sergey Brin says the company "screwed up" when it equipped its world-roving Street View cars with software code that spent three years capturing personal data from open Wi-Fi networks.

"Let me just say: We screwed up," Brin told a room full of reporters this afternoon at the company's annual developer conference in San Francisco. "I'm not going to make excuses about this."

In a blog post on Friday, Google announced that contrary to previous assurances by the company, its Street View cars had been capturing payload data from open Wi-Fi networks as they sped around the globe snapping digital photos. Just a month earlier the company had said the cars were collecting only SSIDs and MAC addresses from Wi-Fi networks.

The Friday post said that the company's mobile team included payload-capturing code in the cars' software despite the fact that the project leaders "did not want, and had no intention of using, payload data". It called this "a mistake".

The company also said that it would delete the data and that it would no longer collect any Wi-Fi data via the cars.

Today, Brin was asked if Google was putting safeguards in place to ensure this doesn't happen again. "We do actually have a lot of controls in place, but obviously they didn't prevent this error from occurring," he answered. "And therefore, we are putting more controls in place and we're asking an external third party to work with us on this is as well.

"Trust is very important to us. And we're going to do everything we can to preserve it."

In its blog post, Google said that it will ask a third party to review its Wi-Fi data collection software and to confirm that the data it collected was deleted appropriately. Google also said it will review its "procedures to ensure that our controls are sufficiently robust to address these kinds of problems in the future".

Data collected in Ireland has already been deleted at the request of the Irish data protection authorities. Here in the States, lawmakers and independent watchdogs have called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate. As reported by Reuters, two congressmen who co-chair the House Privacy Caucus - Republican Joe Barton and Democrat Edward Markey - wrote a letter to FTC chairman on Wednesday. Reuters sources say that both the FTC and the Department of Justice are "interested" in investigating the matter. ®

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