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Indian police investigating Google mapping contest

A security personnel answers a call at the reception counter of the Google office in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad February 6, 2012.
A security personnel answers a call at the reception counter of the Google office in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad February 6, 2012.

By Devidutta Tripathy

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Police in India are investigating to determine whether U.S. Internet company Google Inc violated rules in a competition that asked users to add information about their local areas for its online map services after a government agency raised security concerns.

Google, which ran the "Mapathon" in India in February and March, said its aim was to make more local information accessible to all and that it did not break any laws.

Police are acting on a complaint filed by Survey of India, the country's national survey and mapping agency, which said the contest was illegal and may threaten national security.

"One complaint has been received and we are forwarding it to the cybercell for further action," said Chhaya Sharma, a deputy commissioner of police in New Delhi.

Google officials said the company had not yet received an official communication from the police.

Google invited users to help "create better maps for India" by adding knowledge of their neighborhoods and promised the top 1,000 mappers prizes of tablets, smartphones and gift vouchers.

Survey of India first wrote to Google saying its "Mapathon" was against rules and then filed a police complaint, R.C. Padhi, a top official at the agency, told Reuters.

"We have to ensure that security is not compromised at any cost," Padhi said, adding that some information uploaded on Google Maps could be "sensitive".

Google is open to discussing specific concerns over the issue with public authorities in India, Paroma Roy Chowdhury, a company spokeswoman in India said in a statement.

"Google takes security and national regulations very seriously, and the Mapathon adhered to applicable laws," Roy Chowdhury said.

LATEST IN SERIES OF DISPUTES

The investigation is the latest in a series of disputes between various governments and Google over privacy and security issues involving its popular mapping products.

In March, Google agreed to pay $7 million in the United States to settle an investigation into an incident in which its Street View mapping cars allegedly collected passwords and other personal data from home wireless networks between 2008 and 2010.

In 2011, city police in the southern Indian technology hub of Bangalore ordered Google to suspend a Street View service over security concerns, three weeks after the company started collecting images from the city.

Tarun Vijay, a lawmaker from India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, last month complained to the government over the "Mapathon" contest.

"Will we allow any Indian organization to invite people for mapping their localities and have entire data stored in USA? Special to Google?," Vijay wrote on the Twitter social networking site on March 20.

"If there is a law, it has to be followed. I have asked whether Google followed the law," Vjay told Reuters on Friday, after meeting India's defense and interior ministers over the issue. "I have taken up that they should be acting urgently."

Separately, Google and other social media companies are also fighting a criminal case brought by an Indian journalist related to allegedly "offensive" content on their web sites.

(Reporting by Devidutta Tripathy; Editing by John Chalmers and Matt Driskill)

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