South Korea Raids Google Offices Over Street View Data Collection, Google Prepares Germany Debut


South Korean authorities raided a Google (GOOG) office in Seoul on Tuesday, searching for any user data collected illegally under its controversial Street View project, according to a Reuters report.

In what looks like odd timing, Google announced Tuesday the launch of its Street View service in Germany, which has been highly critical of Google's Street View data gathering techniques.

South Korea is the latest country to join the furor over Google's Street View data collection project, which gathers street-level images to be displayed on Google Maps and Google Earth. In the process of collecting the images, Google acknowledged it had inadvertently collected snippets of users information sent over public Wi-Fi networks.

As a result, countries including South Korea, Australia, Germany, France, Spain, as well as the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the Connecticut Attorney General's office all launched privacy investigations into Google's Street View project, prompting the Internet giant to ground its Street View cars.

In launching the raid, South Korean authorities say they are investigating Google Korea "on suspicion of unauthorized collection and storage of data on unspecified Internet users from Wi-Fi networks," according to a Korean National Police Agency statement.

Plans Continue

Google says it plans to debut its Street View project in Germany by the end of the year in 20 of that country's largest cities, according to an Associated Press report. Germany kicked off the firestorm earlier this year by requiring Google to audit its data collection which eventually exposed the error.

Beginning next week, German residents will have a four-week period to use a special tool to remove their homes from Google's database, according to the report. Critics are worried it's not enough time, given the large number of people away on summer vacation. Germany also won the right to have people's faces and license plates blurred out, according to the report.

People in the U.S. have similar tools available to them. For example, when entering an address and clicking on the word "more" in the left column of the page, users will be given an option to click on "Street View." From there, people should click on the grayed out word at the lower left corner of the page that says "report a problem." After that, click on "privacy concerns" to remove the image of their home, face, car or vehicle license plate, and click submit.

Once a home, person or car is blocked from the Street View page, search users are no longer given the option to click on the word "Street View" when calling up an address.

Whether many people in Germany will go to such lengths has yet to be seen. But that should become evident once Berlin, Munich and Hamburg and others come on line with their Street View feature in the coming months.