Google Spies on Consumers Wi-Fi activities
Google admitted in a blog post Friday that it has been snooping on Wi-Fi users as its Street View cars have been riding around neighborhoods throughout the world collecting data for its mapping service.
In a blog post, the company said it has parked its Street View cars and stopped collecting data after it realized that it has been inadvertently collecting data about people’s online activities from unsecured Wi-Fi networks over the past four years. The disclosure could not come at a worse time for Google, following criticism over its Google Buzz launch from privacy experts and a growing concern among users regarding the amount of data it collects.
Google had apparently told German authorities last month that it had been collecting “publicly broadcast SSID information (the Wi-Fi network name) and MAC addresses (the unique number given to a device like a Wi-Fi router) using Street View cars.” But it said that it did not collect information sent over the network.
Google now says that information was incorrect.
“It’s now clear that we have been mistakenly collecting samples of payload data from open (i.e. non-password-protected) Wi-Fi networks, even though we never used that data in any Google products,” Alan Eustace, senior vice president for engineering and research, wrote in the blog post.
Google said that it recently discovered it has about 600 gigabytes of data transmitted over public Wi-Fi networks in more than 30 countries. Google said that it has not used the data and none of the information has appeared in Google’s search engine or other services.
Google explained that it had been collecting only fragments of data since cars were on the move and could only get information when they passed places where an unsecured Wi-Fi network was being used.
“In short, let me just say it: we screwed up,” Brin said in response to a question on Wednesday. “I’m not going to make any excuses about it.”
Brin addressed criticism that Google’s famously laid-back culture isn’t designed to prevent problems such as the current one. “First, we do have a lot of internal controls in place, but obviously, they didn’t prevent this error from occurring. We are putting more internal controls in place,” Brin said.
“Trust is very important to us, Brin said. “We’re going to do everything we can to preserve that trust.”