Google on Friday confirmed that its Street View cars had inadvertently captured e-mail messages and passwords during their image gathering missions, the result of WiFi sniffing software that was included in Street View cars without authorization.
The acknowledgment comes after data protection authorities in Canada and Spain said as much following the conclusion of investigations into Google's WiFi data gathering in those countries.
Google VP of engineering and research Alan Eustace, who first disclosed the company's WiFi data gathering in May, apologized again and promised changes to prevent similar incidents in the future.
"We work hard at Google to earn your trust, and we’re acutely aware that we failed badly here," he said in a blog post.
Eustace announced three specific steps Google is taking to prevent future privacy missteps.
First, the company has appointed Alma Whitten to be its director of privacy, a position that will span both engineering and product management. Whitten will be reporting to Bill Coughran, SVP of engineering, and Jonathan Rosenberg, SVP of product management. Google already has a global director of privacy, Peter Fleischer.
Second, Google will require all employees to participate in a new information security awareness program, in additional to longstanding training on the company's privacy principles and code of conduct.
Third, Google is adding a new internal compliance process by which every engineering product manager will be required to maintain a privacy design document for every project. The document is intended to serve as a guide for Google managers and an internal team of auditors.
Google may also want to add a ban on privacy-related humor, or perhaps limit CEO Eric Schmidt to April 1st speaking engagements. On Friday, in a CNN interview, Schmidt joked that if you don't like Street View cars taking pictures of your house, you can always move. Stories about the incident tease readers with the possibility that Schmidt was being serious, because outrage-bait gets readers.
Schmidt made a similar joke when he suggested that people change their names upon reaching adulthood to escape search results associated with their past. That joke too failed to be appreciated as humor.