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Google's Street View cameras were capturing quite a bit more than what was originally intended.
Google maintains it didn't realize the data was being collected

Google has raised concerns on more than one occasion from users and privacy advocates who are concerned about the wealth of private data Google collects and stores. This information includes search history of users who use the search engine and more.

One of the more controversial programs that Google runs is its Street View program. Google sends cars outfitted with cameras and other tech to drive around and capture images of streets, homes, and buildings to make navigation easier for users. The problem is that the cars have captured information that raised privacy and security concerns. The most notable breach of security was when Street View cars took photos of military bases in some states, which some say could be used to plan terrorist attacks.

Google Street View cars also captured information from public Wi-Fi networks as they drove around including the SSID and MAC address of routers on protected networks. Google has maintained that it does not capture any payload data from these networks. However, Google is now saying that on inspection of the data it has been capturing, prompted by a request form the Data Protection Authority in Germany, it has discovered that it did in fact capture some payload data from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks.

Google is adamant that it did not use the payload data in any Google products and that typically only small fragments of the data were captured at all. The small amounts of captured data are attributed to the fact that the Street View cars are in motion and change Wi-Fi channels about five times each second.

Google states that a person would have had to be using the Wi-Fi network at the exact time a Street View car drove by and would have to be on a non-secure network for this to be an issue. However, Google says that it has grounded its Street View car fleet after learning of the issue and is working with regulators in multiple countries to determine how to dispose of the collected data.

Google has also stated that after this experience that it will stop its Street View cars from gathering Wi-Fi data at all. To maintain trust Google is getting a third-party to review the software that caused the problem. As Google explains it, the way the Street view cars were able to capture payload data from unsecured networks was due to code placed in a portion of the software back in 2006 by an engineer working on an experimental Wi-Fi project. That code was later incorporated into Google's Street View system without Google realizing the code was there. Google will also review its internal procedures to be sure this sort of problem doesn't happen in the future.

Google uses this issue as a cautionary tale for users on unsecured wireless networks writing, "This incident highlights just how publicly accessible open, non-password-protected Wi-Fi networks are today. Earlier this year, we encrypted Gmail for all our users, and next week we will start offering an encrypted version of Google Search."

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Before we begin here...
By OUits on 5/17/2010 11:58:25 AM , Rating: 4

For everybody who thinks this is a gray area.

How does Google "accidentally" create a database of unprotected WiFi APs?

Also, try not to forget that this was exposed by a regulatory review. Google didn't "come clean" on their own.

RE: Before we begin here...
By ekv on 5/17/2010 3:43:52 PM , Rating: 2
I agree on the "accidentally" part. Google's "do no wrong" is looking more tenuous by the day.

I believe Germany is trying to enact a law making it a fine for allowing your WiFi to be unprotected. A couple hundred euro's. It's more nanny-state interference, but it does exemplify how serious a matter it is.

RE: Before we begin here...
By Descenteer on 5/17/2010 8:22:59 PM , Rating: 2
Not to defend Google, but I CAN see how it may have happened accidentally. It would not take but a few lines of code to add packet sniffing capabilities to an otherwise innocuous access point scanner. In addition, addressing a comment in another post, it would be easy to gather 600GB of data once you take into account that the system is automated and would have been spread out over a large number of vehicles. It's not necessarily like all the data would have been sent to a central storage device; if it was a genuine accident it's probably still on the computers that were in the car at the time.

I am also curious. What use would Google have for ~1/5th of a second's worth of data from any particular open router?

I personally have a little more faith in Google than I do in the average Big Company, but news such as this makes me concerned. It could be an innocence accident, or it could be a ruse to test the waters. A company like Google bears a huge burden if it's to maintain its crown as information king, yet still retain the trust of its users. Things like this damage that trust even in those such as myself.

"I'm an Internet expert too. It's all right to wire the industrial zone only, but there are many problems if other regions of the North are wired." -- North Korean Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il
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