Google 'caught' capturing data

google capturing data over wi-fi networksPressure continues to mount on Google over wi-fi data capture from a number of fronts.
The US Federal Trade Commission confirmed that it has launched a probe into Google’s actions, in response to a request from the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog. The office of Canada’s Privacy Commissioner has also launched an investigation into the collection of the wi-fi data.
Most importantly, German authorities have been pestering Google to hand over a hard disk of wi-fi data that ‘Google Street View’ cars gathered ‘by mistake’.
Pressure to make the data available has been increased by the German regional Information Commissioner that started the inquiry. In a statement, Dr Johannes Caspar said he expected Google to “continue on the path of co-operation and transparency”. However, Google primarily refused to hand over the hard disk of data, amid concerns that it may be breaching German telecommunication law by doing so.
But Dr Caspar told the BBC last week: “I have asked the General Prosecutor in Hamburg whether Google would face problems in giving us the material, and he told us that this would not be a problem.”
The concern – data privacy and security, both for the State as well as the individual. True, Google services make life easier. but how do we ensure that there are ‘no strings attached’? Would you  value information privacy over value added services, or vice versa?
Please state on how such matters can be regulated at the international level. Comments appreciated, with rationale.
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  • You realize, of course, that this was far from deliberate,
    was due to a programming error, and that Google had
    the good ethics to reveal what had happened, once it
    became self-aware of the issue?
    That said, I don’t know how it is possible to have an
    error-proof system. Human errors occur. Audi processes
    might or might not find the leaks, before the software
    or system goes live.
    Personally, in this case, in that none of the captured
    data was used on went public, I think it is a storm in
    a teacup.

  • It is a local security matter so it would never be regulated at the international level. It also isn’t illegal in any way. The info they pulled was to find public SSIDs being publicly “broadcast”.
    What Google did was no different than driving around the various countries listening to various radio stations and logging where their signal strength is. If the “radio” signal was encrypted as it should be if they wish to keep their data private, the info Google got was noise and would have been filtered out.
    Here is a post I already answered to almost the exact same question:
    “Assuming we are talking about Google scanning for open WiFi as part of their Google Streetview mapping. My simple answer is that it was an accident. It was likely a Google engineer who was trying to be more progressive than the current technological climate would allow. Long involved answer: Honestly, I am torn on whether this was a problem to begin with. I definitely don’t see it as a debacle. I think it would be an awesome idea to have publicly available commercial WiFi networks listed on Google maps. It is no more invasive than Streetview. Security wise, it is no different than seeing who has their door wide open in a Streetview frame. It is your responsibility as a WiFi network owner to secure your network. If you don’t, you are at fault for any security issues that arise. We see issues like this everywhere in the Digital Age. The uneducated user, using technology without fully understanding it, and then getting upset at technology when they use it to cause damage. Google did nothing that can’t already be done by anyone with a laptop and some free time. Not to mention that at the slightest bit of an issue Google apologized and stated they are not going to utilize the data. Google goes out of it’s way to push technology and technological evolution in the nicest most PC way possible and proceed to combat extremely monopolistic business models (Mobile OS, Better/Free Broadband/Net-Neutrality, Digital Distribution.) One of their Better/Free Broadband pushes got out early before PR could explain why it’s amazing.”

  • Patrick,
    “Google acquired the private information of WIFI without consent.” – How is a broadcast SSID that extends beyond the physical walls of the dwelling or business ever considered “private”? By not properly sizing their wlan signal and by not taking the rudimentary step of hiding the SSID, they have declared their intention of making it public.
    If someone went to get the newspaper outside their house while naked, and was seen by someone passing by in their car.. would you propose that the people passing by are violating that person’s privacy? This is very much the same.
    Do something in public and lose the expectation of privacy. Broadcast your SSID and over-power your wlan signal, and you can expect others will be able to see your network.
    *disclaimer – I’m aware of some legal cases where some courts have ruled that even if the SSID is broadcast and even if it’s not an encrypted network, you can still be held liable by “trespassing” if you connect. I contend that just because something is the legal doctrine, it doesn’t mean that it’s right or even makes sense.

  • Re: “I contend that just because something is the legal doctrine, it doesn’t mean that it’s right or even makes sense.” ~ Ivan Tirado

  • I appreciate the great services Google provides.

  • Canadian authorities are also investigating this matter.
    Being in the business, I cannot give a non-biased answer to “if I value more privacy or value added services for internet users”.
    What I can say is that Google’s business main target is not provide valuable services to the Internet users. That may have been true when Larry Page first launched its search engine back in the 90s.
    Nowadays, the services offered by Google are ill disguised means of gathering data which make this corporation so powerful.
    These services are useful to the users, the problem is that the population has no idea about what data they gather and how it is used by them. And Google will not make any efforts in educating users about it (other than Terms and Conditions with unreadable legal terms).
    Same goes for Facebook, they are also investigated by Canadian authorities for similar practices.

  • Why is this any surprise? Google’s business is entirely around the collection and use of information – why would they not ather all they can?
    I actually have no problem with the wi-fi data collected. If you set up a broadcast system open to anyone passing by (which is what a wi-fi system is) then how can you complain about what people do with it? If it’s properly secured it doesn’t represent a major security risk.
    This is typicaly of the way we treat succesful business – find any means to beat them down.
    What does concern me is the demands of the german government for the data – I don’t know what they intend to do with it but I’m far more concerned about such data in the hands of a government than in the hands of Google! And if they want such data then they should gather it themselves rather than expect a freebie. They may claim they only want it to assess what has been gathered, but how many of us seriously trust our governments to that extent?

  • Quite simply, if you leave your WiFi network unprotected by password, unhidden and otherwise open then you leave yourself open to much more then Google’s “accidental” invasion. “I didn’t know my WiFi was unprotected” is so 2000. If you’re going to invest in a utility for your home or business, don’t make it easy for others to use for free.

  • It is the bad side of using modern technologies.
    As a result, we need to have international law to protect intellectual property right.

  • Sometimes regulations can do more than a good thing. The investigation should proceed to find out whether there is any malicious intention and also to expose the risks of WIFI data. However, such data is available to anyone within the reach of the signal, so it is public info. To regulate it would also diminish the benefits.
    So lets wait for the result of the investigation, to educate ourselves of the risks involved but don’t regulate it. Let the people make their choices, Google is not the only one who collects data but they can only collect what is put out there, although maybe sometimes without permission. Some people care and some don’t, so lets focus on educating ourselves with the benefits and risks, and then make our own choices.

  • For those who have been thinking that Google is able to meet the expenses of its ever-growing, free-of-cost services through AdSense – wake up!

  • If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. Last Sunday, while shopping with the misses, a guy with a huge gun walked into the supermarket, and 60 seconds later, he walked out with > 5000 €, taxfree. My misses nearly fainted. I would have broken his neck, if I would have given half a change. If Darwin would have been there, he would have believed in ANTI-evolution. Fuck the world, I have NO MORE SHAME !!!

  • Padric O'Rouark

    Whether done with intent or accidentally, this privacy issue of Google and others doing data mining is an issue because the information may incidentally even involve bills, business and banking transactions. The theft of financial and private information is bad news, as is identity theft. In this case it was undoubtedly not what Google was doing. However, the intrusive capability of the software itself is being investigated. Google acquired the private information of WIFI without consent. The German, Canadian and US governments want to see how much information Google is capable of acquiring and what they were actually storing about users.
    I can see several networks on my existing WiFi and at least four are accessable without password protection. Just because I know they are there does not mean I will enter them without permission. If you happen to leave your door unlocked does that imply I have the right to just invite myself in? The naked person anology is just wrong. If somebody goes and picks up a newspaper while they happen to be naked, does that give anyone the right to snap photos and sell them on the internet?

  • Hum…. Personally, I wish more companies where like google.

  • If Google captured unencrypted, unprotected WiFi data, more power to ’em. No one broadcasting data in the clear at a power level where it can be easily picked up from the nearest public place (roadway) deserves any legal protection or redress. If Google had trespassed onto private property to listen in, or was decrypting protected transmissions — that would be a different matter.
    I have to admit that I’m curious as to /why/ Google would be looking for WiFi hotspots in the first place — are they planning to add it to their maps so that anyone can leech off of anyone else’s WiFi? Was someone at Google planning to do a little blackmail on the side?

  • It seems to me that there comes one news item after another about how Google collects data in ways that Joe Public neither expected or wanted.
    The latest news is shocking.
    In order for Google to collect the data there had to be a computer in the car, switched on with an appropriate program running, to repeatedly connect to different networks then read and STORE the data intercepted.
    Has anyone ever been sat in a cafe, say, using their computer and found that it accidentally read and stored the emails from other computers in the vicinity? I doubt it!
    I’ve now stopped using Google as a search engine.

  • Who Cares – The U.S. Census has the most intruisive questionnaire form in the history of surveys – 80% of americans fill out this form without thinking of the consequences.
    No people, in the history of the world, have ever been suppressed, enslaved, tortured or murdered by a search engine company – but we give the government all the information they want. Come on.
    Who cares. Don’t use Google if it bothers you, at least you have a choice – I have 4 “volunteers” from the census knocking on my door twice per day because I refuse to fill out anything other than how many people live in my house.
    THAT information because public record and is available on the internet for ALL to see. Give Google a break and pay attention to the real problem.
    Clarification added 9 days ago:

  • George Fox

    Alexander Kunz Nailed it in one, the comments below make me want to net stumble past all your houses with my crayons.
    Legal = Yes
    Google = There doing a great public service which is not invasive, too many people use wireless with out understanding the risks associated.
    Leeching Your Bandwidth = Priceless
    Alexander Kunz CISSP, HISP
    Information Security, Compliance, Physical Security, Special Operations Visionary, Leader and Expert
    Hum…. Personally, I wish more companies where like google.

  • Great blog! I really love how it is simple on my eyes as well as the facts is well written. I am wondering how I can be notified whenever a new post has been made. I have subscribed to your rss feed which must do the trick! Have a nice day!

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