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Google to hand over Street View Wi-Fi data 'within days'

With its lawyers apparently satisfied, Google now seems ready to co-operate with requests to release personal data collected by its Street View vehicles around Europe.

Eric Schmidt, Google

Google has admitted it "screwed up" in collecting personal data from unsecured Wi-Fi connections along with mapping data for its Street View service, and says it will be handing over data to German, French, Italian and Spanish regulators within the next two days.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Google's chief executive Eric Schmidt has blamed the affair on a single rogue coder, saying it had never intended its Street View vehicles to collect payload data from Wi-Fi packets.

"We screwed up. Let's be very clear about that," Schmidt said. The male employee in question is now subject to internal disciplinary proceedings, he added.

The affair first came to light last month, when it emerged that Google's camera-equipped Street View vehicles, already unpopular for taking images that critics claim are an invasion of privacy, had for years also been harvesting data transmitted over unsecured Wi-Fi networks used by residents and businesses in 33 countries around the world.

Initially, Google claimed it was simply gathering demographic data for use in developing unrelated services, and did not retain any personal information, but two weeks later was forced to reverse its position and admit the data the vehicles had collected included "fragments" of personal data from the likes of emails and other messages.

Google insisted the data was never used, and offered to destroy it immediately, but several countries called for it to be handed over instead, including Germany which set a deadline of a week ago for Google to comply.

When that deadline came and went without any data changing hands, Google pointed out that it wanted to clarify some legal issues before taking action not least of which was whether it was in fact legal to hand over private data to the country's government.

Google now appears to have resolved those issues, and is finally ready to get the ball rolling in Germany, France, Italy and Spain. It has indicated that it will co-operate where required in other European countries, too. The UK's Information Commissioner has already said it is satisfied with Google's promise to delete the data as soon as reasonably possible.

Despite the controversy, Google insists it has no plans to "restrict 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.

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