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Google blames Wi-Fi snooping on rogue engineer

Patented accidental Street View slurp defended

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Eric Schmidt has taken to the business pages today to blame Google's heavily criticised Street View Wi-Fi data harvesting operation on the actions of one rogue software coder.

The male Googler in question is now subject to disciplinary proceedings, he told the FT.

That's in spite of the news overnight that the firm applied for a patent on the technology in January.

Google has maintained it never intended to collect payload data from Wi-Fi packets. The practice was only exposed after German privacy regulators protested about Google's previously undisclosed system for collecting SSIDs and MAC addresses as its fleet of Street View cars toured Europe.

"We screwed up. Let's be very clear about that," Schmidt said.

He told the FT that Google will begin handing over the intercepted payload data to German, French, Spanish and Italian regulators within the next two days. They are considering criminal investigations, while the UK's Information Commissioner's Office was satisfied by a pledge to delete British data "as soon as reasonably possible".

Google says it is conducting an internal review of its privacy policies as a result of the controversy, but will not restrict its engineers' freedom despite the "clear violation" of its rules by the unnamed rogue coder.

"It would be a terrible thing to put a chilling effect on creativity," said Schmidt.

Pass the sick bag, Eric.

He rejected growing perception of Google as arrogant, blaming it on lobbying enemies. "The arrogance comes across because we try to do things for end-users against organised opposition from stakeholders that are unhappy – and they paint us as arrogant.

"But I am sure that all successful organisations have some arrogance in them." ®

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