Google admits harvesting Wi-Fi data with Street View cars

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Google admits harvesting Wi-Fi data with Street View cars

Says data traffic collection was a simple mistake.

Google has admitted that it has been recording data transmissions on Wi-Fi networks using its Street View cars.

In a blog posting Alan Eustace, senior vice president of Engineering and Research explained that while Google routinely collected some wireless information in the cars, such as network names, it appeared for the last four years it had also been collecting payload data from open Wi-Fi points.

“So how did this happen? Quite simply, it was a mistake,” he said.

“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. 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.”

He said Google had shut down the Street View fleet until it was sure the software had been removed and the company would bring in an independent third party to verify the code had been expunged and to check it had been fully deleted.

“Once again Google has demonstrated a lack of concern for privacy,” said John M. Simpson, consumer advocate with the Consumer Watchdog group.

“Its computer engineers run amok, push the envelope and gather whatever data they can until their fingers are caught in the cookie jar. Then a Google executive apologizes, mouthing bafflegab about how privacy matters to the company.”

He continued that Google’s announced plan to have an unnamed third party study what went wrong and to check that the improperly gathered private data has been eliminated is inadequate.

“That’s like getting to pick the referees in a championship football game,” said Simpson.

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