/ Technology

Has your data been Street Viewed without your knowledge?

Which? London offices on Google Street View

Google’s mission to map the world onto its Street View application came with a little mishap – it inadvertently took data from unprotected networks. It’s now been discovered that this included emails and passwords.

Google is once again in the firing line. The company first admitted to accidentally gathering our data during its Street View tour in June of this year. Its van’s little antenna was only meant to collect the locations and names of the world’s Wi-Fi networks in order to help sell targeted ads.

But this had a turn for the worse when the company admitted to accidentally gathering data from networks that weren’t password protected (there’s a lesson for ya).

In the end the UK’s privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), let Google off as the data trawled was said be a big scrambled mess.

Google harvested emails, passwords and URLs

At the time opinions on Which? Convo were divisive, with Richard Kinley saying, ‘Zzzz. Where’s the evidence that anyone has been harmed by this?’ Commenter ‘Evil C’ disagreed, adding a staunch warning, ‘Ordinary people who think this is pie in the sky are deluding themselves!’

He may have been right, since it’s now emerged that complete email addresses, passwords and website URLs were copied. Google is apparently ‘mortified’ at the revelation and has admitted it ‘failed badly’.

But these words may not save them, as ICO has decided to look into the case once again. Which raises the question – why didn’t ICO properly investigate this first time around? Did the UK’s privacy watchdog let us down by simply checking sample data provided by Google itself?

Should Google be punished?

Nevertheless, Google could face a fine of up to £500,000, which may not be too much for a company that’s been accused of dodging £2bn in taxes.

The company stopped collecting Wi-Fi data quite some time ago, and it wants to delete the 600 gigabytes of data as soon as possible. This is something that Privacy International thinks could constitute the destruction of evidence.

Do you think Google should get a slap on the wrist for this invasion of privacy? And do you still trust the company that once used the slogan ‘Don’t be evil’? Whatever the case, since all the data was collected from unencrypted networks, this does highlight the importance of securing your Wi-Fi with a solid and unwavering password.

Sophie Gilbert says:
28 October 2010

A big scrambled mess isn’t indecipherable to someone determined. I think the UK’s privacy watchdog too was going “zzzzzz”. £500,000 isn’t much, but it’s a start. And once again we need to save people from themselves and Wi-Fis should be programmed in such a way that they are not able to function without a password having to be created for them and then used.

Google did not set out to collect a range of data that was not wanted any more than the people whose data was collected intended to broadcast it to the world. However, there are huge number of users who do just that. Not only can their data be read by anyone, (sorry make that everyone!) their broadband can also be used by anyone. If you ever see what has been happening to the PCs of such users you will find possibly long lists of PCs that have more or less loosely associating with their PC. I have seen the results when trying to sort out and repair such a user’s PC.
Sophie Gilbert, you are so right, however it is not enough for the ISP to brand a router with the name ‘ISP Blogs’ and then set the password(s) and passcode for WPA2 to the same value on every router.

Of well let us try once more, the ***** should read as the string used to set up WPA2 it appears that code and pass are not liked when too close together!

Wow that was fast but I am worried, if the profanity filter thinks that such words are ‘not nice’, could this be why so many people fail to set their security?

Patrick, my last comment was just a bit of humour, but it still worries me that security, especially computer network security is always seen as some one else’s problem and not worth the time of day.

Wi-Fi routers without security protocols?


“They wus askin’ for it Gunvnor”

The internet is full of fools – don’t be one.