The pic of the right was taken when a Gargle SnoopMobile invaded p2pnet home territory on Vancouver Island, BC.
Ostensibly, it was taking panoramic images used — once again without permission — on its sneak view Street View product.
But it was also scanning my (and other peoples’) wireless radiations.
It’s been doing the same thing in Germany and elsewhere, such as the UK where officials from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) were demanding details and assurances about the practice.
In Germany, Der Spiegel had German federal data protection commissioner Peter Schaar declaring Google SnoopMobiles were scooping up private WLAN networks and record users’ unique Mac (Media Access Control) addresses.
But, but, it’s all so perfectly innocuous! – Google tried to argue.
Spokeswoman Kay Oberbeck told Der Spiegel, “It is important to know that this technical information will be made through a network of the operators available to the public. It is not a question of personally identifiable data. These data are both aggregated and anonymous and the survey is legitimate.”
Oh. That’s OK then.
However, now “Maintaining people’s trust is crucial to everything we do, and in this case we fell short”, it admits in a blog post.
Fell short? It was caught red-handed with its pants around its ankles and its hands in the cookie jar, if that isn’t mixing too many metaphors.
“Nine days ago the data protection authority (DPA) in Hamburg, Germany asked to audit the WiFi data that our Street View cars collect for use in location-based products like Google Maps for mobile, which enables people to find local restaurants or get directions”, it says in a blog post, going on >>>
His request prompted us to re-examine everything we have been collecting, and during our review we discovered that a statement made in a blog post on April 27 was incorrect.
Schaar had made a very loud, very public and very angry expression of outrage.
Gargle goes on >>>
In that blog post, and in a technical note sent to data protection authorities the same day, we said that while Google did collect publicly broadcast SSID information (the WiFi network name) and MAC addresses (the unique number given to a device like a WiFi router) using Street View cars, we did not collect payload data (information sent over the network). But it’s now clear that we have been mistakenly collecting samples of payload data from open (i.e. non-password-protected) WiFi networks, even though we never used that data in any Google products.
However, we will typically have collected only fragments of payload data because: our cars are on the move; someone would need to be using the network as a car passed by; and our in-car WiFi equipment automatically changes channels roughly five times a second. In addition, we did not collect information traveling over secure, password-protected WiFi networks.
So how did this happen? Quite simply, it was a mistake. In 2006 an engineer working on an experimental WiFi project wrote a piece of code that sampled all categories of publicly broadcast WiFi data.
A year later, when our mobile team started a project to collect basic WiFi 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.
As soon as we became aware of this problem, we grounded our Street View cars and segregated the data on our network, which we then disconnected to make it inaccessible.
It’s only after the (principally online) media raised all kinds of hell that Google has owned up.
The trouble is, like social advertising site Fa$ebook, Gargle keeps on pulling these kinds of strokes, using the injured innocence ploy when it’s caught.
Buzz was the most recent example.
But by the time it’s nailed, it’s already scarfed up and used all kinds of information.
“We want to delete this data as soon as possible, and are currently reaching out to regulators in the relevant countries about how to quickly dispose of it”, it says.
No need to stay tuned on that. As soon as possible is Google-speak for ‘after we’ve wrung it dry’.
One wonders how much more bullshit it’s getting away with that we don’t know about …
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win ~ Mahatma Gandhi
harvesting user WiFi data- How come Google can wardrive?, April 23, 2010
sneak view Street View – Google SnoopMobile invades p2pnet turf, June 16, 2009
details and assurances – UK data guardians on Google WiFi data gathering, April 26, 2010
Der Spiegel - Datenschützer kritisieren W-Lan-Kartografie, April 22, 2010
BBC – Google admits wi-fi data collection blunder, May 15, 2010
most recent example – Google tries to weasel out of Buzz disaster, May 11, 2010
blog post – WiFi data collection: An update, May 14, 2010
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