Privacy, privacy, privacy; it seems all like everyone is talking about nowadays is privacy. And why shouldn’t we be – no one likes the idea of big brother watching every move we make on the internet or having some psychopath be able to find us by simply typing our name in a search engine. One of the most notorious firms centered around privacy issues is Google. (After all, Google’s core business is derived from advertising and advertising depends on being able to quantify users’ surfing habits; advertisements may be a necessary evil to fund websites, but they are an evil nonetheless in my humble opinion.) So, why am I not surprised to learn about Google’s “recent blunder” of collecting private data from unprotected Wi-Fi connections?
Google provides a service called Street View which basically is a service that allows users to view images of places from all around the world. (Google collects these pictures for Street View via their Street View cars which go around and snap pictures and such.) Recently, after complaints of privacy issues related to Google’s Street View cars taking pictures of anything and everything, the German government audited the data that Google collects via Street View cars. Thanks to this audit it has been revealed Google’s Street View cars have “been mistakenly collecting samples of payload data from open networks”. In other words, if you have an unprotected/unencrypted Wi-Fi connection, Google’s Street View cars may have collected your private data, such as “parts of an email, text, photograph, or even the website someone may be viewing”. To add icing on the cake, this has been going on for three years.
Google claims that the problem can be attributed to experimental Wi-Fi code written by an engineer back in 2006; this experimental code was “mistakenly” included in the software that Street View cars use and “as soon as Google found out” they “grounded [the] Street View cars and segregated the data on [their] network, which [they] then disconnected to make it inaccessible”.
Personally, I don’t know about everyone else, but I am not buying the “oh it was a mistake, we didn’t know what was going on” excuse. How in the world can you “mistakenly” collect data for three years and not even know it? If it was a bug of some sort, I would understand; however, we are talking about real data – someone had to process the data being collected by the Street View cars, someone had to know what was going on.
Google, don’t make the same mistakes Facebook is doing about privacy or I may just start using Bing. (…Okay, probably not.) (Ignore the fact that the issue mentioned in this post has nothing to do with Google’s search engine services – it is the principle of the issue that matters!)
Oh, and moral of the story? Protect/encrypt your Wi-Fi! By protect/encrypt I mean set a password to it, preferably using WPA2, but even WEP is better than no protection at all. (Go to your router settings to access these features.)
[via BBC News]
Feel free to flame Google in the comments below.