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SKorean police say Google collects personal info

- Associated Press - Thursday, January 6, 2011

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) - Google Inc. collected e-mails and other personal information from unsecured wireless networks in South Korea while taking photographs for its Street View mapping service, police said Thursday.

In May, the American search giant announced it had inadvertently collected fragments of people's online activities from unsecured Wi-Fi networks in more than 30 countries, prompting investigations around the globe.

Street View provides street-level images on Google Earth and Google Maps. Google said entire e-mails, URLs and passwords were among items its researchers collected.

Google accessed private data as its cars took photos of neighborhoods in Seoul and three other major cities in South Korea between October 2009 and May 2010, said Jung Suk-hwa, a police officer in charge of the investigation.

Jung said the police reached the preliminary conclusion after analyzing hard disks obtained from Google, noting that police plan to wrap up the investigation as early as this month.

South Korea's mass-circulation Dong-a Ilbo newspaper first reported the case on Thursday.

Police suspect Google's activities break South Korean laws protecting privacy of telecommunications. It was not immediately clear whether Google and its officials might be prosecuted or penalized here.

Google apologized for intruding and vowed to continue to cooperate with South Korean authorities.

"As soon as we realized what had happened, we stopped collecting all Wi-Fi data from our Street View cars and immediately informed the authorities," Google Korea spokeswoman Kate Park said in a statement.

"Our ultimate objective remains to delete the data consistent with our legal obligations and in consultation with the appropriate authorities."

In addition to international investigations, about 40 U.S. states are seeking to review the information to see if Google improperly accessed e-mails, passwords and other private data.

Google's disclosure has generated a variety of responses. Greek officials asked for more safeguards before its streets were photographed, and some English villagers protested by forming a human chain to stop a camera van.

In November, Google bowed to pressure from German residents and made that country the only one in the world where people can ask in advance to have images of their homes excluded from the Street View feature.

Last month, Google acknowledged that it trespassed when it took a photo of a Pittsburgh-area house for Street View, but consented to pay only $1 in damages to the couple who sued.

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