Google tells lawmakers it never used Wi-Fi data

Internet » Company apologizes for collecting fragments of e-maisl, search requests and other online activities.
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Google Inc. is telling lawmakers that it never dissected or used any of the information that it accidentally sucked up while collecting data about public Wi-Fi networks in more than 30 countries.

In a letter to three key members of the House Commerce Committee, the company apologized for collecting fragments of e-mails, search requests and other online activities over unencrypted Wi-Fi networks.

The company got the information while photographing neighborhoods for its "Street View" mapping feature. Google said it was trying to gather information about the location, strength and configuration of Wi-Fi networks so it could improve the accuracy of location-based services such as Google Maps and driving directions.

Going further and collecting snippets of information traveling over those networks "was a mistake," Pablo Chavez, Google's director of public policy, wrote in the letter.

Google's letter, released Friday, was a response to an inquiry by Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey, a key member of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet. The letter was addressed to Barton, Markey and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., has also expressed concern about Google's actions.

Although the company used its Street View cars as a platform for the Wi-Fi equipment, the Street View photographs and the collection of Wi-Fi network information are separate efforts. Google says it has stopped grabbing Wi-Fi data from its Street View vehicles since it discovered the data collection problem last month following an inquiry by German regulators.

In the letter sent to the House, Google said that any personal information inadvertently swept up in the process of mapping Wi-Fi networks was "not used to identify any specific individual or household" and was stored only in "raw, aggregate, binary form." It added that "the payload data has never been used in any Google product or service, nor do we intend to use it."

Google tells lawmakers it never used Wi-Fi data