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Google says Street View scraped passwords, tightens privacy

updated 04:30 pm EDT, Fri October 22, 2010

Google Street View incident pushes tighter privacy

Google today warned that its accidental collection of Wi-Fi data with Street View cars collected more than it thought and was triggering a privacy overhaul. Senior Engineering and Research VP Alan Eustace admitted that investigations in Europe and elsewhere contained whole e-mail messages, web addresses and in some cases passwords. Google will delete the information as soon as it's legally cleared, the executive said.

To address the problem, the search originator said it would institute deeper training for engineers on privacy and make a security awareness program mandatory for new hires from December onward. Every engineering lead will have to likewise keep a privacy design guideline for their work to show how it would handle privacy and give a way for Google to audit its privacy controls.

Privacy engineering lead Alma Whitten was also being promoted to direct privacy across both engineers and product management.

The collection was reportedly the result of leftover experimental code being included in and running with Street View cars collecting photos. The vehicles had Wi-Fi in a bid to map available access points but hadn't been intended to snoop actual data. While Google didn't have any reason to believe the data was vital at first, it led to a temporary freeze on Street View driving and even raids of Google offices in South Korea over fears that it might abuse the information.

Street View has since resumed, but none of the vehicles now have wireless.



By Electronista Staff
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  1. SierraDragon

    Mac Elite

    Joined: Mar 2004

    +6

    Google still does not get it

    "The vehicles had Wi-Fi in a bid to map available access points but hadn't been intended to snoop actual data."

    Google still thinks their mapping of access points, MAC addresses, etc. is OK. It is NOT. Street view is fine, but the existance and location of any individual WAP is PRIVATE not public info.

    Just because it is possible to snoop does not make it appropropriate.

  1. testudo

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Aug 2001

    0

    Re: Google still does not get it

    Google still thinks their mapping of access points, MAC addresses, etc. is OK. It is NOT. Street view is fine, but the existance and location of any individual WAP is PRIVATE not public info.

    Um, they aren't making it public.

    And even so, under whose definition has it been decided that the existence and location of anything is 'private'? If I live next door and see your SSID, am I already invading your privacy? If my computer happens to take note of the MAC of that device, then have I broken into your home and stolen your identity?

    Just because it is possible to snoop does not make it appropropriate.

    Tell that to the FBI, CIA, NSA, etc. They all think it is appropriate, regardless of circumstance.

  1. testudo

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Aug 2001

    +8

    sad...

    What this shows is the sad state of affairs of security in the home. In order to scrape passwords and emails and the like, the routers had to be wide open, and the users not using encryption on their email and other tasks.

    What is also funny is that it's considered bad for a company to gather this data, but if they admit they gathered it, they can't delete it, they have to wait until they are allowed to delete it by the gov't.

  1. Makosuke

    Junior Member

    Joined: Aug 2001

    +8

    Google Scares Me

    I'm going to agree that publicly broadcast wifi is, by definition, public--if you're using unlicensed radio spectrum and your signals overlap a public right of way, its existence is also public. You could also make the argument that whatever data is sent into that right-of-way is also legitimately scrapable.

    HOWEVER, just because data is visible to the public does not make it acceptable to capture it, or do things with it--just because you can see me through my living room window from the street does not make it ok to take a picture of me through the window, and it certainly doesn't allow you to print that picture in a magazine (or at least, it doesn't in many countries--it'll depend on local laws). Even if I paint my credit card number on the side of my house, that does NOT make it legal to use it to buy stuff for yourself. It makes me stupid, but my stupidity is not free license for you to commit a crime.

    It's also not necessarily ok to try and use that data--for example, I don't know that it's legal (and it's certainly NOT morally acceptable) to publish a list of garbage cans that always have space left in them when they're put out at the street, and aren't visible from the house they belong to, even if that data could be ascertained from a public right-of-way; that's basically a physical analogy to unsecured Wifi. Storing the data you scraped driving by is more like also logging the contents of that garbage can, which could well have some private info in it.

    Past all of this, however, Google just scares me--they have far more individual data on nearly every internet-connected human on earth than any single company should, they've demonstrated repeatedly that they are happy to collect even more wherever they can, and their CEO has gone on record saying, in essence, that he thinks the only problem with 1984 was that they were doing it wrong.

  1. DiabloConQueso

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jun 2008

    +1

    On that same line of thinking...

    ...I don't think anyone would argue that if someone leaves their car running with the engine turned on while they run into the corner store to grab a cup of coffee, that anyone that takes that car is definitely stealing it, even though access to the car was "wide open" and available.

    However, here in Texas we have laws that would allow prosecution not only of the criminal who stole the car, but also the buffoon that left it running as well. The idea is that less cars would get stolen if less people left their cars "wide open" for the stealin'.

    So it's a crime to steal something even though it's "wide open," but in addition to that, shame on the person responsible for leaving it wide open.

    I also get a kick out of those people at the grocery store that talk obnoxiously loud on their cell phone, then give you a dirty look as you listen in because they're trying to have a private conversation.

    The point being that, sure, people shouldn't be snooping in your shizzle even when it's wide open, but if you do leave it wide open, don't act surprised when your private matters become public because of it.

  1. wrenchy

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Nov 2009

    -5

    This is all


    FUD.

  1. testudo

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Aug 2001

    -1

    Re: Google Scares Me

    Even if I paint my credit card number on the side of my house, that does NOT make it legal to use it to buy stuff for yourself. It makes me stupid, but my stupidity is not free license for you to commit a crime.

    OK. And where is Google using this data to commit a crime?

    for example, I don't know that it's legal (and it's certainly NOT morally acceptable) to publish a list of garbage cans that always have space left in them when they're put out at the street,

    How is that not morally acceptable? What is immoral about such a list? Perhaps it would be immoral to list all the items in the trash.

    and aren't visible from the house they belong to, even if that data could be ascertained from a public right-of-way;

    Not sure what the garbage can being visible or not has anything to do with it.

    But you should be forewarned that any garbage can placed on a right-of-way is basically made public and can be searched. Cops do it all the time, no need for warrant or anything. Note that post office boxes are protected specifically by laws (and I believe only apply to boxes that have been approved by the post office). So maybe we need gov't sanctioned garbage cans.

    that's basically a physical analogy to unsecured Wifi. Storing the data you scraped driving by is more like also logging the contents of that garbage can, which could well have some private info in it.


    And, if there's anything in your garbage you don't want anyone to see/find, you either destroy it (shred it, say) or don't put it out.

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