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  (Source: Inquisitr)
Google is watching you

Did senior level Google Inc. (GOOG) managers know of and condone one of their engineer's audacious schemes to "wardrive"  the United States and Europe, using the company's "Street View" cars?  That's what U.S. government officials at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission are accusing [Scribd].

I. Google Managers Pre-Approved Spying on the Public

The new allegations come as the latest public relations setback for Google and its emabattled "Street View" program.  The company, whose informal slogan is "Don't be evil", claims to follow an "explore first, worry about profit later" mentality.  

Street View is the perfect embodiment of the Google ethos -- or so it seemed.  Launched in 2007, the project sent cars wired with cameras and high-tech communications equipment out on the roads in an unprecedented bid to provide street-level views of every stretch of road in the developed world.

The project was supposed to be for the betterment of mankind, or something along those lines.  But Google's altruism has been called into question when it was revealed that it was using its wired Street View vehicles as warwagons to troll unsecured wireles connection connections.  Further, the Google cars were discovered to be intercepting unsecured email and SMS traffic, data mining peoples' private conversations.

Google Street View
Google merrily used its Street View cars to data mine open WiFi connections.  Now the company claims it was just an innocenent mistake, blaming an unnamed engineer.
[Image Source: Jacopast/Wikipedia]

Google cast this hidden capability as a "bug" in the Street View code, created by a misguided engineer.  But according to the FCC while Google appears to have broken no laws in spying on people on unsecured lines, emails between the engineer in charge of the program and two other employees -- including a senior manager -- indicate that the program was not a rogue effort. It was in fact on the radar of at least some members of Google's senior staff.

II. Google Let Off With a Slap on the Wrist

The FCC did dock Google $25K -- essentially a slap on the wrist for the multi-billion dollar tech firm -- for impeding its investigation.  But Google claims it has nothing to hide and is publishing the emails described by the FCC, with the engineers and manager's names redacted.

Google now admits that five of its engineers were involved in the effort, but it denies knowingly playing unwelcome house guest on home internet connections across North America and Europe.

Google wide
Google has made billions off of figuring out your online habits and providing targeted marketing. [Image Source: My Life Untethered]

The internet firm categorizes the snooping as "minimal" and says that the program was not even big enough to be reviewed by the company's legal staff.  The program was launched in Oct. 2006 by "Engineer Doe" and was pre-approved by at least one manager who devoted resources to the project.

Google's lawyers admit that the engineer who spearheaded the effort did examine personal web traffic to establish a list of most-visited websites for certain IPs, but it insists that the abuse was not pervasive.

The company promises to try extra hard to protect the public's privacy in the future.  It insists that the data mining plot was simply an innocent mistake.  A company spokesperson writes, "The record... shows that Google's supervision of the Wi-Fi data collection project was minimal ... indeed, it appears that no one at the company carefully reviewed the substance of Engineer Doe's software code or the design document."

Despite the U.S. letting off Google with just a warning, the Mountain View, Calif.-based software company is facing the prospect of stiffer fines in multiple other nations, including member states of the European Union.  The company is also facing private lawsuits over the unwanted surveillance.

Sources: Scribd [FCC/Google], The Guardian



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RE: so..
By Reclaimer77 on 5/1/2012 9:23:53 AM , Rating: 2
That analogy appeals to an emotional component Tony, but isn't really applicable.

An open WiFi router is blasting information and network access in all directions far beyond the perimeter of your dwelling. I'm not exactly approving of what Google did here, but it's a well known fact you have NO right to privacy if your wifi router isn't secured. And you should get no sympathy either.

How this somehow compares to breaking and entering is absurd. An open window is NOT an invitation for people to crawl through and steal your goods. Come on now, be serious.


RE: so..
By messele on 5/1/2012 10:04:58 AM , Rating: 2
I don't know about in the USA but in the UK if I were to access an open network (private, but open) and commit a crime it would be me who would be brought to task for it, not the person who owned the router.

Google knowingly equipped their vehicles with the technology to snoop on networks and for what good reason? There is a big difference between cataloguing and geo-locating SSIDs which is what they seem to be claiming and connecting to those networks, which they should not have done.

If they could have bypassed everybody's network security would people still be saying its ok? What is the difference between a burglar walking through an open door, climbing through a high open window and forcing entry (albeit not damaging property). They are all analogous to what is happening with Google in my opinion.


RE: so..
By tamalero on 5/1/2012 12:21:41 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
If they could have bypassed everybody's network security would people still be saying its ok?


No, that is clearly illegal. Since you're willingly breaking the protection that is set to prevent and stop others from entering your networks.

Having no security in your networks is like having a huge parcel with no fences/walls/warning posts.. someone might want to set themselves there for a picnic.. if there is no fences.. no warnings no nothing keeping you out... who is to blame then? clearly not the pair doing a picnic!

quote:
I don't know about in the USA but in the UK if I were to access an open network (private, but open) and commit a crime it would be me who would be brought to task for it, not the person who owned the router.

Hu? I tough it was only when people willingly broke into your private connections to exploit? (aka breaking the sec code like WEP?)


RE: so..
By Smilin on 5/1/2012 10:18:38 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
An open WiFi router is blasting information and network access in all directions far beyond the perimeter of your dwelling.


You also broadcase other EM outside your residence. A peeping tom watching you have sex with an IR camera is still breaking the law even though they didn't step on the property.


RE: so..
By Reclaimer77 on 5/1/2012 11:42:14 AM , Rating: 2
That's an absurd argument and you know it. You're trying to analogize using surveillance equipment to spy on someone to accessing an unsecured non-password protected router. Are you freaking serious?

First off one is illegal and the other is not.


RE: so..
By Tony Swash on 5/1/2012 1:13:47 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
That's an absurd argument and you know it. You're trying to analogize using surveillance equipment to spy on someone to accessing an unsecured non-password protected router. Are you freaking serious?

First off one is illegal and the other is not.


I am astonished that so many people seem to think that what Google did was apparently OK or at the very least trivial. Leaving a window open is silly. Climbing through a complete strangers open window is just plain bad. It seems such simple ethics to me - am I missing some special mitigating circumstances that only applies to Google? If so I would love to hear what they are.


RE: so..
By Rukkian on 5/1/2012 2:01:52 PM , Rating: 2
I just can't believe that Tony would have something bad to say about a competitor to Google.

While I do not like what they did, it is apparently not illegal, and not really that bad in my opinion.

Pretty much every router sold in the past 4 years has come with encryption turned on by default. Anybody nowadays that has a router with encryption off is just an idiot.


RE: so..
By Reclaimer77 on 5/1/2012 2:28:35 PM , Rating: 2
Wrong Tony. The only reason this is even being discusses is BECAUSE Google is involved. THEN the tinfoil hats come out. We all know people who have accessed unprotected WiFi's. We even know people who exclusively have internet access because a neighbor stupidly left their router open. In neither of these cases is someone hauled to jail, fined, or even slapped on the wrist.

Google rolls a van around doing the same thing and OMFG GOOGLE IS THE EVIL IN YOUR HOUSE STEALING YOUR WIFI'S!!! You think Google invented Wardriving? Give me a break!

Of course what Google did was trivial. Can you even produce one single person that was somehow hurt by this or effected in any way?


RE: so..
By Trisped on 5/1/2012 5:08:14 PM , Rating: 2
There is a difference between entering private property and listening to broadcast information.

If a cop overhears someone planning to rob a bank then the cop can testify in court. If a cop breaks into my house (or enters without my permission) and overhears someone planning to rob a bank then the cop's testimony is not admissible in court.

There is a fundamental difference between listening to a broad cast and physically entering a private residence.


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