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(LEAD) S. Korean police confirm illegal personal data collection by Google

All Headlines 14:24 January 06, 2011

(ATTN: UPDATES with details in paras 4-7)

SEOUL, Jan. 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's national police said Thursday it confirmed that the world's largest Internet search engine, Google Inc., had illegally collected personal information in the process of providing its map service.

A cyber crime investigation unit at the National Police Agency (NPA) has been analyzing hard drives and related documents seized from a raid on the company's Korean unit, Google Korea, in August last year. Investigators said they confirmed the global firm has harvested and stored personal data in making Street View, a Google map service that features a panoramic view of streets.

"We decoded passwords to the hard drives and found they contained personal e-mails and text messages that individual Internet users exchanged through Wi-Fi networks," an NPA official said.

Police said Google's Street View cars gathered personal data, including user IDs and passwords, from hundreds of thousands of people who used the Internet through unprotected Wi-Fi networks.

Such activities are in violation of the country's telecommunications laws.

Police summoned some 10 company officials, including an official in charge of the Street View service at the headquarters, but they denied the charges, saying they were only carrying out orders from Google's main office, investigators said.

"I didn't know what kind of information was collected," the official was quoted as saying.

They said the police plan to file criminal charges against company executives who allegedly instructed the infraction but need more time to identify the people responsible.

Google is under investigation in more than 16 countries on the same suspicions of illegal data collection.


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