Master of the Internet, Google says it has agreed to hand over data it "mistakenly" gathered from unsecured wireless networks in Europe.
Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO told the Financial Times (opens in new tab) that the firm was ready to hand over information to the German, French and Spanish data protection authorities.
Google had been reluctant to comply with the German request it deliver the data, initially suggesting that there were legal concerns over what should be done with it.
But now Schmidt has also admitted that the data may not be as benign as the company was at first insisting.
Schmidt said that personal data such as bank account details could be among the data collected.
"We screwed up. Let’s be very clear about that,” Mr Schmidt said. "If you are honest about your mistakes it is the best defence for it not happening again."
Unfortunately, the company has been far from honest about its activities and about the sort of data it has collected.
Mr Schmidt said the company would conduct an internal review into its privacy practices,
It also appears there will be an internal investigation into the man who wrote the code which Schmidt said was in “clear violation” of Google’s rules. The engineer apparently wrote the code to find WiFi connections at Stanford University campus. Google initially said the code was years old and appeared in the Street View cars by mistake. It now appears to want to scapegoat the code's author.
It also initially denied any knowledge of the code despite having stored some 600GB of data it collected in a number of hard disk which have now been destroyed.
Initially Google claimed: "Google did collect publicly broadcast SSID information (the WiFi network name) and MAC addresses (the unique number given to a device like a WiFi router) using Street View cars, we did not collect payload data (information sent over the network)."
It later confessed this was not true: "It’s now clear," wrote Alan Eustace, Google's senior VP, engineering & Research, "that we have been mistakenly collecting samples of payload data from open (i.e. non-password-protected) WiFi networks."
Google insisted that these snippets of payload data would not be useful or contain any personally-identifiable data.
Now Schmidt has admitted that such information as bank account details could be amongst the data collected.
German regulators in Hamburg said they are considering a criminal investigation into the shenanigans.