Google Street View Data Debacle
As you may know, a total of 38 American states (as of 23/07/10), as well as several European countries, aren’t particularly happy with Google at the moment. This is because whilst they were undertaking the noble task of photographing the streets of the world for ‘Street View’, they were also capturing lots of personal data. Obviously, some data needed to be recorded to locate the photos it was taking, but due to a tiny bit of code written in 2006 by an engineer for an experimental Wi-Fi project, Google had been getting everything; email addresses, passwords, the lot.
“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.”
It is far from a surprise then that the conspiracy theory community, and freedom of information groups (such as the EFF) are having a field day with this. What makes it even more tasty is that the Washington Post recently concluded a two year investigation into America’s military intelligence, and noted that Google work closely with the government providing them with search and mapping facilities, and that many Google employees hold top secret security clearance. Conspiracy theory gold.
Further concern was expressed when Google was ‘hacked’ recently, and the source of the attack was determined to be China. Google still holds all of this personal data, whilst the debate rumbles along, but the fact that hackers managed to get deep into their servers means that it’s there to be taken if you really wanted.
However deep you believe Google’s involvement to be, it clearly reinforces the idea of how easy it is to collect personal data these days, and without anyone’s knowledge. With most people being only vaguely technologically minded, theft of information is already a huge crime area. But should we be more worried about seemingly benign companies collecting data for a reason or their apparent inability to hold on to it? It will be interesting to see the result of both the American and European cases against Google, or ‘Big Brother’ as it should really be called.
Just remember to secure your wireless network!