The search enginer’s error came to light after the German data protection authority audited the Wi-Fi data collected by Street View cars for use in location-based products such as Google Maps for mobile.
“The independent audit of the Google system shows that the system used for the Wi-Fi collection intentionally separated out unencrypted content (payload data) of communications and systematically wrote this data to hard drives,” said Simon Davis from Privacy International.
He added it was equivalent to placing a hard tap and a digital recorder onto a phone wire without consent or authorisation.
The UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said it was aware of the issue and if it finds “evidence of significant wrongdoing, we will of course investigate and consider what action should be taken.”
Google said the error came after a piece of experimental code written in 2006 was included in the software used by its Street View cars by mistake.
However, Davis says Google’s explanation “doesn’t add up”.
“This is complex code and it must have been given a budget and been overseen. Google has asserted that all its projects are rigorously checked,” said Davies.
“”It goes to the heart of a systematic failure of management and of duty of care.”
Last week Google said that it will give European regulators data it secretly collected from open wireless networks over the past three years.
A Google spokesman said on June 3rd that the data should be handed over within a matter of days.