Google `spied` on British emails and computer passwords

The company has, however, apologised for downloading personal data.

London: In what could be called a major security breach, Internet search engine `Google` has admitted spying on computer passwords and entire emails from households across Britain and it is being targeted in a class action suit in US, that alleges it violates the privacy of its users by sharing personal information and Internet search queries of its users with third parties.
The California-based company has, however, apologised for downloading personal data from wireless networks when its fleet vehicles drove down residential roads taking photos for its Street View project, `The Sunday Telegraph` reported.

"It`s clear from those inspections that while most of the data is fragmentary, in some instances entire emails and URLs (web addresses) were captured, as well as passwords.

"We want to delete this data as soon as possible, and I would like to apologise again for the fact that we collected it in the first place," Alan Eustace, Google`s Vice-President of engineering and research, was quoted as saying.

Millions of Internet users have potentially been affected. The Information Commissioner`s Office, the privacy watchdog, said it would be looking into Google`s admission.

Images for Street View were gathered by vehicle- mounted panoramic cameras starting in 2008.

In May this year, Google confessed the vehicles had also been gathering information about the location of wireless networks, the devices which connect computers to the tele- communications network via radio waves.

Meanwhile, the suit was filed in a US District Court in San Jose, California, yesterday on behalf of a woman named Paloma Gaos, a resident of the San Francisco area, and other users of Google`s popular search engine.

It seeks monetary damages and an injunction against Google ordering it to stop sharing search results with third parties.

"User search queries, which often contain highly-sensitive and personally identifiable information, are routinely transferred to marketers, data brokers, and sold and resold to countless other third parties," the complaint said.

"Not only does Google, whose company motto is `Don`t be evil,` promise in its privacy policy not to do this, but Google has publicly denounced this very practice in the past,"
the law firms behind the suit said in a statement.

A Google spokesman said, the Mountain View, California-based company had not yet received a copy of the complaint and "won`t be able to comment until we`ve had a
chance to review it."

Google denies transmitting personally identifiable information about users to third parties and says it "anonymises" the results of Web queries, removing all traces of personally identifiable information.

Bureau Report