Google faces privacy investigation in Canada

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has started an investigation into Google’s collection of data from unsecured wireless networks, the office said in a statement on Tuesday.

Data protection authorities in France, Italy and Germany are already investigating Google’s Street View service, after the company said last month that its camera cars mistakenly collected data from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks while compiling images of city streets for its Google Maps site. 

The company had said in April that it had collected only the Wi-Fi network names and MAC (media access control) addresses, but not data from unencrypted Wi-Fi connections. The data helps it locate users of its mobile services when they connect over a Wi-Fi network.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the investigation in Canada.

Expressing concern about the privacy implications of Google’s confirmation that it had been capturing Wi-Fi data in neighborhoods across Canada and around the world over the past several years, the statement also quoted Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart as saying that her office had a number of questions about how this collection could have happened and about its impact on people’s privacy.

Rapidly growing location-based online services are raising new risks for privacy, as the incident involving Google shows, according to Assistant Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham. 

Denham expects the investigation will promote better handling of personal information among other organizations involved in the collection of Wi-Fi data for the purpose of facilitating the delivery of location-based services.

The office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has asked Google to retain the data it collected in Canada. The Privacy Commissioner of Canada is mandated by the country’s Parliament to act as an ombudsman, advocate and guardian of privacy and the protection of personal information rights of Canadians.

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