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Google to turn over data to European governments

A construction worker walks past a logo next to the main entrance of the Google building in Zurich May 25, 2010.

ARND WIEGMANN/REUTERS

Google is bowing to the demands of four European governments and says it will begin surrendering the data it improperly collected over unsecured wireless networks.

Eric Schmidt, Google's chief executive, told The Financial Times in an interview in London that within the next two days, the company would share the data with regulators in Germany, Spain, France and Italy. The data is thought to include fragments of personal information like e-mail and bank account numbers.

Google had previously resisted requests from European officials and privacy advocates to hand over the data, saying it needed time to review legal issues.

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Last month, Google revealed it had been inadvertently collecting 600 gigabytes of personal data, saying that the roving, camera-mounted cars in its Street View program had collected not only photographs of neighbourhoods but snippets of private information from people whose personal Wi-Fi networks were left unencrypted.

In Thursday's interview, Schmidt said that the software code responsible for the data collection was in "clear violation" of Google's rules.

Schmidt also said that Google would make public the results of internal and external audits of its Wi-Fi data collection practices.

Regulators in the United States have not expressed the same level of outrage over the incident as European officials have. The Federal Trade Commission has said it will take a close look at the practice, and several lawmakers have written letters to Google asking for more information about the practice. Lawsuits against Google over Wi-Fi data collection have also been filed in at least three states.

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