Google Handles Privacy Blunder Well

May 17, 2010 • 8:00 am | comments (5) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Other Google Topics

On Friday Google wrote that they made a huge mistake when it came to collecting Wifi data in their Street View cars. They said they unknowingly collected snippets of payload data (internet transmissions) as they drove through your neighborhoods. That means, as Google's street view cars drove past your home, they not only collected publicly broadcast SSID information and MAC addresses but they also pick up on a bit of what you were doing on that public network for the time they drove by your house.

Now, the data itself probably sounded like a mix of incomprehensible information. Imagine having a line of people all having their own conversations all standing in a line. Then you walk up that line at normal speed, trying to understand the conversations. It is mostly incomprehensible but nevertheless it was being captured.

Google admitted their wrong doing and took steps to immediately prevent this from happening again. As I explained in my Search Engine Land post:

Google added that, Google has made a decision to completely stop using the WiFi data collection technology with Street View cars in the future. Those wifi collecting cars will be taken out of the rotation and not be used due to the privacy concerns expressed globally. In addition to these steps, Google promised to ask a third party to audit the software at issue and conduct internal reviewing procedures to ensure that the controls are in place to prevent these issues in the future.

I think the steps they took and will be taking are solid.

Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld, DigitalPoint Forums & Google Maps Help.

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Dark SEO

05/17/2010 12:22 pm

I normally agree with your point of view, but you are totally wrong here, "the data itself probably sounded like a mix of incomprehensible information", no, the data is a TOTALLY comprenhensible (and very private) information that someone can analyze, play back, publish, etc... But ... they already know more about us (with stuff they control and its legal, and nobody complains) that what they can extract about of a couple of TCP packets.


05/17/2010 12:23 pm

Although strangely - and I haven't looked too hard - I haven't seen them saying that they're going to make sure that the data is deleted...?

Barry Schwartz

05/17/2010 12:49 pm

Jamie, Google wrote: "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. 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."


05/17/2010 05:58 pm

I think they blew it. It is perfectly logical that when I take a picture that I should also be capturing packet data from surrounding wi-fi networks. Don't all cameras do that? Don't give Google a free pass on is unacceptable. What else are they accidentally capturing (When I use my credit card Google should capture that right). As for the passing conversation example. That doesn't work because the username and password would come across the network within milliseconds of each other. Explain why they were capturing the data...that is the real story.


05/17/2010 06:08 pm

The credit card example was a bad example. A better illustration of what Google may be collecting is "Web Camera" images from users on the Crome browser. I'm sure they are just doing eye tracking test and they aren't looking into your home.

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