By Timothy McDonald and staff
Updated Tue May 25, 2010 9:42am AEST
Caught out: a Google Street View camera takes photos of buildings in Amsterdam (AFP: Toussaint Kluiters)
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has lashed out at Google, accusing the internet giant of the single biggest breach of privacy in history.
In recent weeks Google has been criticised after revelations that its Street View photo cars were also collecting information about people's wireless internet connections.
Google has also been a critic of the Government's proposed internet filtering plan, but Senator Conroy insists his comments are not payback.
He says Google considers itself accountable to no-one and he has singled out the internet giant's chief executive, Eric Schmidt, for special criticism.
"I think that the approach taken by Mr Schmidt is a bit creepy, frankly," Senator Conroy said.
"When it comes to their attitude to their own censorship, their response is simply, 'trust us'. That is what they actually state on their website: 'Trust us'."
Several national privacy commissioners have raised concerns over Google's collection of wi-fi data, a practice which has ceased since it was made public.
Senator Conroy says Google considers itself to be above government.
"They consider that they are the appropriate people to make the decisions about people's privacy data and that they are perfectly entitled to drive the streets and collect as much private information by photographing over fences and collecting data information," he said.
"This is probably the single greatest breach in the history of privacy."
In a post on Google's official blog, Alan Eustace, a senior vice-president at the company, said the information on wi-fi connections was collected by mistake.
"In 2006 an engineer working on an experimental wi-fi project wrote a piece of code that sampled all categories of publicly broadcast wi-fi data," the blog reads.
"A year later, when our mobile team started a project to collect basic wi-fi network data like SSID information and MAC addresses using Google's Street View cars, they included that code in their software - although the project leaders did not want, and had no intention of using, payload data.
"As soon as we became aware of this problem, we grounded our Street View cars and segregated the data on our network, which we then disconnected to make it inaccessible."
Following questions from Liberal Senator Mary Jo Fisher at a budget estimates hearing yesterday, Senator Conroy disputed Google's claim that the privacy breach was inadvertent.
"Google have admitted to doing this and claim it was a mistake in the software code," he said.
"It was actually quite deliberate ... the code that the computer program uses was designed to collect this information ... they wrote a piece of code designed to do it."
Google has been a critic of the minister's proposed internet filtering plan, saying it could affect user speeds and accidentally filter legitimate material.
The company also says it would give parents a false sense of security, because it would be quite easy to circumvent.
The internet censorship debate has been a heated one, and others in the estimates hearing suggested that there might be some personal motivation in the minister's comments.
The attack did not go unnoticed by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam.
"Minister, you just went on a 10-minute tirade of corporate character assassination," Senator Ludlam said.
Google was yet to return calls from AM for a response.