In what could be called a major security breach, Internet search engine ‘Google' has admitted to spying on computer passwords and entire emails from households across Britain.

The California-based company has, however, apologised for downloading personal data from wireless networks when its fleet vehicles drove down residential roads taking photos for its Street View project, The Sunday Telegraph reported.

“It's clear from those inspections that while most of the data is fragmentary, in some instances, entire e-mails and URLs (web addresses) were captured, as well as passwords.

“We want to delete this data as soon as possible, and I would like to apologise again for collecting it in the first place,” Alan Eustace, Google's Vice-President of engineering and research, was quoted as saying.

Users affected

Millions of internet users have potentially been affected. The Information Commissioner's Office, the privacy watchdog, said it would be looking into Google's admission.

Images for Street View were gathered by vehicle-mounted panoramic cameras starting in 2008.

In May this year, Google confessed the vehicles had also been gathering information about the location of wireless networks, the devices which connect computers to the tele-communications network via radio waves.

Street View pictures were taken in the UK, US, Germany and other countries.

Materials archived

Google archived all the material it had gathered, which included e-mails being sent by private individuals, the web pages they were viewing, and passwords they may have entered, as the Street View vehicle passed their homes.

It is believed that only wireless networks that were not password-protected were affected, the newspaper said. — PTI