/ Technology

Google’s invasion of privacy held to account

Computer code

Roll over Google –¬†you’ve been caught out again. The search engine giant¬†could face legal action after it was found ‘unintentionally’¬†collecting private wi-fi data during its Street View tours.

Google has recorded sensitive data in more than 30 countries, including the UK and Ireland, on its Street View expeditions. With cars cruising past our homes, its taken 3D snaps and collected location data for its online map service.

At first Google was criticised for snapping members of the public unawares, whether sunbathing or love-making. But now attention has turned to its accumulation of data from unsecured wireless networks. Data that includes private emails, browsing history, passwords and even banking details. Naughty, naughty.

Google professes innocence

The search engine giant claims it was collecting wi-fi network data to help track business locations, but it unintentionally picked up info transmitted by open networks.

After an investigation by the German government, Google fluttered its puppy-dog eyes and¬†apologised for its ‘accidental’ actions, but admitted it¬†had ‘failed badly’.

France’s privacy watchdog CNIL found that Google gathered data –¬†some contravening banking and medical privacy rules –¬†over two years. While CNIL mulls over taking legal action, London’s Metropolitan Police has¬†just launched an investigation to settle whether laws have been breached here.

Google plans to delete all wrongly collected wi-fi data asap – if requested by authorities. However, Privacy International, the UK’s independent privacy advocacy group,¬†says this would¬†‘constitute destruction of evidence’.

Instead, PI says, all data should be stored securely until Google has resolved legal enquiries.

Secure your network

This invasion of our wi-fi networks highlights the danger of failing to secure them properly. If Google can access passwords in this way, imagine how easily a hacker could retrieve your info and mis-use it.

It’s essential to secure your personal broadband network and our guide to online security can help. Otherwise, not only could your data be stolen, your network could be used to share files illegally –¬†leaving you potentially liable to copyright infringement.

As for Google, Privacy International doubts that the harvesting was accidental, questioning how the company could have missed such a large accumulation of extra data.

What’s clear is that Google will be coming under a lot of pressure over these impish actions, whether it recorded our data innocently or not.

Pula Houghton says:
5 July 2010

Such a difficult issue privacy as the amount of data we release had just exploded in recent years. The key seems to be how to find a balance between making the most of new techonologies and yet preserving some sense of personal identity. Easier said than done but vital if we are not to lose our faith in some amazing technologies!

Richard Kinley says:
15 July 2010

Zzzz. Where's the evidence that anyone has been harmed by this? Nowhere, because there isn't any. Wake me up when they've all gone home.

Internet privacy is a real threat to our lives. I’ve worked in this area and done a lot of research. I can’t stress enough just how careful home users should be about protecting their privacy online. Take Microsoft as just one example of this. When you ‘buy’ a Microsoft (MS) operating system, you aren’t actually buying it at all, just using it under MS licence. If you read the EULA (End User Licencing Agreement) this is confirmed. MS can (and do) install updates even though you have switched off auto update and they can (and do) break through your firewall and have a look at your computer and your personal files.

The majority of sites on the web are continually following your browsing and some of them attempt to log your keystrokes and find out your credit card and other financial and personal details. There’s plenty of evidence that users are harmed by invasion of privacy.

Ordinary people who think this is ‘pie in the sky’ are deluding themselves!

I’ve enjoyed following my sister round New Zealand and my Niece round Australia, though some of the Google images are probably years old. I could tell them where to get their fish and chips! It’s like having several post cards from them all at once. I am disturbed by the fact that Google routinely logs my search requests. They must have trillions of pieces of data in store, but I don’t want them to have mine. It’s as if someone was opening my letters for me and then passing them over for me to read. If they do it, who else does? It’s why I don’t bank on line and why I chew my nails every time I make a purchase. I’ve had good rail tickets, a mobile battery which was unavailable elsewhere and some lovely sheep skin products, but each time I tap my card details in I think of all those crooks who are just waiting to empty my account for me, especially those who defeat my security software (reported in the latest Which.) If I want people to know my business, I’ll write another comment here and tell them. To all those nosey parkers out there..mind your own!