Google outside your gaff, taking pics while logging your WiFi traffic

You’ve probably all heard about the crap Google got into in Germany when it was found out (after initial denials by Google) that they were doing more than taking pictures of cats in the windows of homes. They were also (and they never informed the public of this) scanning all WiFi networks, logging on if they could and taking snapshots of whatever traffic was passing through the network. So bits of emails, images from websites etc. were logged against your GPS coordinates and your WiFi network name.

In February I asked Google to remove where I live from their Streetview database as per instructions from the Data Protection Commissioner. Being a human and not someone that spends big money with Google, I was ignored. I’m sure if they made money from me I’d be listened to and get a free Nexus too. So now I need to ask the same for my Wifi networks? Great.

CeBIT 2010 - Google Streetview
Photo owned by Patrick H~ (cc)

The issues here are still being found out, for example in Germany the authorities investigating this serious privacy breach asked for the data that was collected but handing over the data breaches data privacy laws! But do they breach the Data Retention Directives? where countries including Ireland can demand an ISP store data on Internet usage. It’s great data for a Government to have. The location of every WiFi network in Ireland and the name of the network. What if someone was uploading an MP3 when being scanned? Could IRMA go after Google?

This is not like the screaming hysteria around Facebook where people sign up to Facebook and then give it data. This is Google coming into your neighbourhood and scanning your WiFi, aggregating it and other data around your location and then storing it in a database or databases. Where are these databases?

This whole story shows that even if this was an error in code it shows that now 30 countries are affected by it. Chinese hackers got into Google systems, imagine if they got this data or they themselves injected code in it. The arrogant grandstanding by Google, hiding behind their “do no evil” mantra, letting us know that they know better is not good enough in this situation. When technology like this, where a simple error can affect the privacy of potentially millions of people then maybe it’s up to the local data protection entities to examine the data gathering process to make sure it’s clean and safe.

7 Responses to “Google outside your gaff, taking pics while logging your WiFi traffic”

  1. Unless I am mistaken, logging on to someone else’s WiFi network without permission is a criminal offence in the United Kingdom? That could open a whole can of worms!

    I don’t look at scanning wireless networks as a privacy issue. If your data is so sensitive, use appropriate encryption and security on your WiFi, or better yet, stick to the wired alternative!

    Unencrypted WiFi traffic is basically a ‘broadcast’, and Google are receiving it in a public place. Every PERSON needs to take responsibility for their own privacy – having an open WiFi network is analogous to throwing your bank statements in to the trash without shredding/burning them…

  2. aidanf says:

    Anyone who has a an open wifi network is basically broadcasting all traffic that passes over it in full public view.

    If you don’t want your wifi traffic to be publicly available to anyone within range then you should secure your network.

  3. Keith says:

    I had an open WiFi network myself for a while. After noticing it I found it dificult to set it up again, when I couldn’t find the relevant disk to install a password. There are many people out there like myself that don’t have a technical background for something as simple a this. I wonder if our online banking details are in these databases??

  4. Google have put their hands up and gone beyond their duty in disclosing this fact and in putting measures in place to ensure that the data is securely destroyed.

    There is no denying that this is a major stuff up and bad PR, however, two major points:

    A) it was code that should never have been there in the first place that caused this issue. This in itself is wrong, but occasionally, shit happens. For a company such as Google who produce billions of lines of code and which a huge number of people globally use and are better for every day, having something such as this is inevitable. However, they have learned from their mistakes and have put measures in place to ensure as best as possible that this never occurs again.

    B) the information that they have been collecting is all being transmitted across unsecured wifi networks. It is therefore in the public domain and available to anyone with a laptop and a little knowledge to collect for their own means. Google have admitted to mistakingly collecting this and will now go beyond their responsibilities to securely delete this information. Hopefully, some good can come of this due to the publicity that’s being generated. People should now be aware that this information is being transmitted unsecured and may start to ask questions and make some noises about trying to secure their own home networks which is only a good thing.

  5. They’re not going beyond their responsibilities/duty by deleting the stolen data, it’s the law that they have to adhere too. The same one they broke. Going beyond their responsibilities would see them delete all the WiFi network information.

    re: A
    Allowing Google to trample on rights of people because they’ve made good products and made billions from them is besides the point and lets sentimentality override privacy invasions.

    re: B
    Having the ability to be found by the public and being in the public domain are entirely different. Google is pushing information into the public domain, without permission. What underwear I wear could be found out by peering into my back garden and seeing what’s on the washing line. Claiming that my washing is public domain isn’t true unless I’m hanging it out in a public square. They’ve tried the same stunt with their book scanning while claiming it was for the public good when it’s for shareholder gain in reality.

  6. Richie says:

    About your reply A about G making billions from their products – the reality is that G really earns all it’s revenues from advertising. Pretty much all of their cool stuff is loss making. This is Gs *BIG* problem, which drives their aggression in products and data aggregation.

    But yeah, the “Don’t be evil” is just pr dross, like every other shareholder beholden company, they are all about the money, and Page and Brin have always been totally focused on that.

  7. Donal says:

    it gets even better
    Programmers who use google gears can use the wifi location data (in combination with other stuff such as IP address and 3G towers if available) to pinpoint your location scarily close

    there was a demo that some guy had put online but it has since been taken down…