Google has expressed 'profound' sorrow following evidence that it has collected information from open networks as part of Street View, with a blog post admitting 'we failed badly here'.
What Google claim was a mistake surfaced as part of the German authorities look into the Street View data, and the company has also been forced to admit that an earlier denial that this type of data was stored was wrong.
"It's now clear that we have been mistakenly collecting samples of payload data from open (i.e. non-password-protected) WiFi networks, even though we never used that data in any Google products," admitted Alan Eustace, Senior VP, Engineering & Research on the Google blog.
"The engineering team at Google works hard to earn your trust—and we are acutely aware that we failed badly here'.
"We are profoundly sorry for this error and are determined to learn all the lessons we can from our mistake."
Google has insisted that the data collection was simply an error, but the company will be hugely embarrassed that an investigation into its propriety has found a huge breach of privacy.
"… it was a mistake," adds Eustace. "In 2006 an engineer working on an experimental WiFi project wrote a piece of code that sampled all categories of publicly broadcast WiFi data.
"A year later, when our mobile team started a project to collect basic WiFi network data like SSID information and MAC addresses using Google's Street View cars, they included that code in their software—although the project leaders did not want, and had no intention of using, payload data.
"As soon as we became aware of this problem, we grounded our Street View cars and segregated the data on our network, which we then disconnected to make it inaccessible.
"We want to delete this data as soon as possible, and are currently reaching out to regulators in the relevant countries about how to quickly dispose of it."
The fact remains, whether Google are being evil or not, the efforts to collect all the world's information mean that this is not ever likely to be an isolated mistake.