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Google Deliberately Stole Data, Says Australia

Australia's government has accused Google of deliberately harvesting personal data from wireless networks in the country as it gathered images and information for its much-criticized "Street View" application.

The Connecticut Attorney General said this week that he was to head up a 30-state investigation into Google's WiFi data gathering scandal, and France is also considering criminal charges against the Web giant for possible breach of the country's privacy laws.

CBSNews.com's Tech Talk columnist Tom Krazit reports Attorney General Richard Blumenthal's investigation only added to the legal headaches for Google caused by the revelation that its Street View cars were collecting wireless "payload" data in addition to geolocation data from unsecured wireless hot spots.

Ever since Google revealed the extent of its data gathering a month ago in response to inquiries from German regulators, lawyers and politicians have been lining up to express their outage, reports Krazit.

Google has argued that the data that was collected was "fragmented" because Street View cars were moving and the equipment used to record data was changing wireless channels several times a second. But Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has now told Channel 10 the search engine's programmers deliberately wrote the code used by the army of vans to harvest the personal information of WiFi users.

"I'm saying they wrote a piece of code designed to do it," said Conroy. "This is probably the single greatest breach in the history of privacy."

Meanwhile, the British "Daily Mail" newspaper reported Tuesday that France's data protection agency, which asked Google to hand over its data from the Street View vehicles earlier this month, had determined in a preliminary investigation that there was likely sufficient evidence to file criminal charges.

According to the paper, an official at the agency, the CNIL, said some of the data turned over appeared to be "covered by banking and medical privacy rules."

The officials, who were not named by the Daily Mail, reportedly said the agency would have sufficient information gathered by December to decide whether or not to drag Google into French criminal court.

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