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Google may face penalty over privacy
The global search giant seems to have collected private personal data without individuals' consent for its Street View services.
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SEOUL - Google could face disciplinary action from the country's communication regulator as the global search giant seems to have collected private personal data without individuals' consent for its Street View services.

The Korea Communications Commission said Tuesday that it would decide whether or not to impose penalties against Google as soon as it completes its investigation.

"We have almost completed our investigation into Google. Its alleged data gathering without (consumers') consent is in breach of law governing information and communications networks," said Ban Sang-kwon, head of the KCC's privacy protection and ethics division.

"This issue will be brought to the KCC's committee members (for final decision) within this year."

KCC vice chairperson Kim Choong-seek also told the press on Monday that it would be possible for the regulator to impose a fine against Google over privacy issues, although this could be complicated as the company abides by global standards.

"We haven't heard anything from Google headquarters yet," Google Korea's public relations executive Lois Kim told The Korea Herald, declining to further comment.

Korea's Information and Communications Network Act indicates that the government can impose a fine of up to 1 per cent of sales on companies that collected personal information without consent.

Google has operated vehicles equipped with special cameras and computers in major metropolises in Korea including Seoul, Busan, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province between 2009 and 2010 for its Street View database.

Google has been suspected of collecting personal information such as emails and passwords of at least 600,000 people via wireless networks during the production of Street View.

The prosecutors began the investigation and seized documents at Google Korea and summoned two programme developers at Google in the US in August 2010.

However, the prosecutors stopped the probe in February 2012 as Google did not respond to the summons.

"We admit to the illegal gathering of personal information. But it was not intentional, and we deleted illegally collected data," the search company said in a statement in 2011.

The KCC urged Google to stop gathering location information for Android-operated devices as such an act was in violation of the country's information law in 2011 and 2012.

The Google case involving its alleged private information collection has resurfaced this year as the search company has been fined in other markets for similar wrongdoings.

The company agreed with 37 states in the US to voluntarily pay fines of US$17 million (S$21 million) last year. Germany and France fined Google 45,000 euros (S$78,000) and 150,000 euros, respectively.

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