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Google Street View Cars Collect WiFi Network Data

05.20.10

To the surprise of many Google confirmed that since 2006 its Street View Cars captured WiFi network information in addition to Street View Photos. Google uses this WiFi network information to improve location-based services like search and maps. Specifically Google confessed that the WiFi information collected was:

WiFi networks broadcast information that identifies the network and how that network operates. That includes SSID data (i.e. the network name) and MAC address (a unique number given to a device like a WiFi router). Networks also send information to other computers that are using the network, called payload data, but Google does not collect or store payload data.

Not surprising that Google claims that its collection and use of the WiFi data was legal, done by other companies including Skyhook and organizations like the German Fraunhofer Institute. Around the world a number of privacy groups have been unhappy about Google Street View Photos and now new privacy concerns issues abound regarding Google’s collection of WiFi network data.

Destruction of Google’s Irish WiFi Data

Even though Google claim it is completely legal on May 14, 2010 the Irish Data Protection Authority asked Google to delete its WiFi network data collected in Ireland. So on May 16th the destruction of this WiFi network data was confirmed by a third party consultant. However one might wonder how the consultant could confirm that all the data was actually destroyed without reviewing Google computer networks, which is probably impossible to do.

Germany and Australia Want Answers

German prosecutors are investigating whether Google violated privacy laws and Google posted a blog that the Data Protection Authority in Hamburg, German requested an audit of Google’s WiFi data.  Also privacy groups in Australia want Google to know more. Clearly Google’s collection and use of private WiFi network information helps us better understand how little privacy we all have.

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