Google StreetView WiFi Privacy Lapse

The amazing street mapping service from Google: “Street view” has ruled 1000s of other Map services by provding superior Street details. They capture street images using dedicated vehicles which also happened to capture basic WiFi info like Mac Address, SSID and Location, which actually helps them locating users without use of GPS.

Apart from capturing the said data, Google has “mistakenly” collected payload data from “open” (un-encrypted) WiFi networks as its Street View cars drove around taking pictures. Google humbly said that they never used any of that data, and company has decided to completely stop collecting WiFi data from its Street View cars.

The data which was mistakenly collected had almost everything users were doing over Open wifi networks — Anything from browsing, emailing, IMs, and what not.

Last month, in a blog post they detailed what kind of data was Street View cars collecting in response to an inquiry from German lawmakers. Google reported that they use only 3 of those for use in Google’s location-based services, like Skyhook Wireless‘s services for locating devices without use of GPS.

Recently, Google reviewed the data that Street View cars had collected and found that some “samples” of information users sent over their networks were indeed saved. Why, Google explains:

“In 2006 an engineer working on an experimental WiFi project wrote a piece of code that sampled all categories of publicly broadcast WiFi data,” Google’s Senior VP, Engineering & Research Alan Eustace wrote. “A year later, when our mobile team started a project to collect basic WiFi network data like SSID information and MAC addresses using Google’s Street View cars, they included that code in their software—although the project leaders did not want, and had no intention of using, payload data.”

Google wants to harden future policies on data privacy, and that is why they have asked a third party to review what was collected and confirm that it was deleted. It also plans to review its procedures to ensure something similar doesn’t happen in the future.

Every company makes mistakes, but only few come forward and admit it.

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