Saturday, May 15, 2010

Google posts wrong information and then says mistakenly collected WiFi data

This is getting funnier and murkier. Few days back Google had posted about exactly what information Google Street View cars collect as they drive our streets-

What information are your cars collecting?
We collect the following information--photos, local WiFi network data and 3-D building imagery.

What do you mean when you talk about WiFi network information?

WiFi networks broadcast information that identifies the network and how that network operates. That includes SSID data (i.e. the network name) and MAC address (a unique number given to a device like a WiFi router).
Networks also send information to other computers that are using the network, called payload data, but Google does not collect or store payload data.

Is it, as the German DPA states, illegal to collect WiFi network information?
We do not believe it is illegal--this is all publicly broadcast information which is accessible to anyone with a WiFi-enabled device. Companies like Skyhook have been collecting this data cross Europe for longer than Google, as well as organizations like the German Fraunhofer Institute.

Why did you not tell the DPAs that you were collecting WiFi network information?
Given it was unrelated to Street View, that it is accessible to any WiFi-enabled device and that other companies already collect it, we did not think it was necessary. However, it’s clear with hindsight that greater transparency would have been better.



Now the blog post has added this message

googincorrect info

(Read the full blog post here- Data collected by Google cars )



And now when the data protection authority (DPA) in Hamburg, Germany asked Google to audit the WiFi data that the Street View cars collect, Google now says – “….that a statement made in a blog post on April 27 was incorrect.”


And now posts - WiFi data collection: An update


But it’s now clear that we have been mistakenly collecting samples of payload data from open (i.e. non-password-protected) WiFi networks, even though we never used that data in any Google products.
However, we will typically have collected only fragments of payload data because: our cars are on the move; someone would need to be using the network as a car passed by; and our in-car WiFi equipment automatically changes channels roughly five times a second. In addition, we did not collect information traveling over secure, password-protected WiFi networks.

So how did this happen? Quite simply, it was a mistake. In 2006 an engineer working on an experimental WiFi project wrote a piece of code that sampled all categories of publicly broadcast WiFi data. 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.”

(Read the full blog post WiFi data collection: An update )

How can a company like Google do such a mistake ? First it said it thought its not illegal – how can it be so careless on Privacy matters.

This is another instance where Google has lost people’s confidence, faith. People are really bothered by what other data  Google is collecting unknowingly…………

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