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Google faces heavy fine for spying on personal data

Company has revealed that the 'Street View' service has collected far more information than previous

Google could face a heavy fine after it admitted that it did download personal data such as computer passwords and e-mails from households across Britain via wireless networks when its vehicles drove along residential areas.

Six months ago, the UK government granted information commissioner Christopher Graham, head of the UK's data protection body, new powers to fine companies up to £500,000 for intruding on privacy.

Google admitted that its mapping service Street View gathered images by vehicle-mounted cameras starting in 2008.

Now, the company has revealed that the mapping service has collected far more information than was previously thought.

"We want to delete this data as soon as possible, and I would like to apologise again for the fact that we collected it in the first place," said Alan Eustace, Google vice-president of engineering and research.

Collection of the additional data was a mistake resulting from a piece of computer code from an experimental project being accidentally included in the Street View cars' software, Google added.

The Information Commissioner's Office said it would look into the security breach by Google.