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Google Backs Down, Will Give Street View Data To Privacy Officials

Google is backtracking on its previous refusal to hand over private data collected in April by its Street View cars to several European governments. The Financial Times reports that Google will initially give the intercepted data to officials in Germany, France, Spain, and Italy sometime within the next two days.

The Financial Times quotes Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who repeated what Sergey Brin said last month about the Street View blunder:

“We screwed up. Let’s be very clear about that,” Mr Schmidt said. “If you are honest about your mistakes it is the best defence for it not happening again.”

Schmidt also told the Times that he couldn’t rule out the possibility that Google collected personal data such as bank account details.

That won’t sit well with privacy regulators, many of whom are buzzing around Google looking for any opportunity they can find to challenge Google on the privacy front.

But Google also isn’t doing itself any favors here. When the Street View data collection issue first came to light in late April, Google essentially dismissed the concern with a blog post that downplayed the situation. A couple weeks later, the company did its first about face: It corrected the first blog post and admitted that it had “mistakenly” collected individuals’ personal data.

Shortly after that, Sergey Brin said “we screwed up” when asked about the episode at the Google I/O conference. But a week later, when German privacy officials demanded that Google turn over the data it had collected in that country, Google somewhat flippantly said it couldn’t do that because doing so may violate German law.

Germany is one of several countries that’s said to be considering legal action against Google over the Street View data collection, and the data that Google is now going to turn over could potentially be used as evidence in the courts.

The Financial Times article also gets into Google’s “20% time” policy, suggesting that the engineer who wrote the code that collected this data may have done so during his own 20% time. That engineer, the article says, is facing internal discipline. But Schmidt says Google has no plans to change its policy on 20% time.

Google will also publish the results of an outside audit into its Street View data collection practices, and conduct its own internal review of all of the company’s data collection practices.

There’s more discussion on Techmeme.

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