Google | Sorry, we’ve been evil

16 05 2010

The largest and most powerful corporation on Earth with the world-famous motto “Don’t Be Evil” has been forced to apologise for ‘hijacking’ WiFi waves then proceeding to hoover up all data within the catchment area indiscriminately.  All with the aid of the very mobile fleet of Google-endorsed Street View Cars.  Those motors with the special cameras taking photos of your valuables.

Google apologises for collecting personal web data

Google has been forced to apologise after admitting it has been wrongly spying on people’s internet use for more than three years.

By Roya Nikkhah, Telegraph.  Published: 9:45AM BST 15 May 2010

The internet giant’s Street View cars, which were launched last year to take photographs for its Google Maps service, have mistakenly collected information sent over unencrypted Wi-Fi networks.

Information gathered by the cars’ antennae could include parts of an email, text or photograph or even the website someone may be viewing.

About 600 gigabytes of data was taken off Wi-Fi networks in more than 30 countries. Google said it plans to delete all the information as soon as it gains clearance from government authorities.

The admission will raise more privacy worries about the company, which issued a public apology on Friday.

Google said that it only recently discovered the problem in response to an inquiry from German regulators, who began to examine why Google was using the cars to collect Wi-Fi data at all.

A month ago, Google said that it was only collecting the name and location of local Wi-Fi networks, information, it argued, that was publicly available and which would help improve its location services.

The company said that as soon as it became aware of the problem, it grounded its Street View cars from collecting Wi-Fi information and segregated the data on its network.

Google is now asking for a third party to review the software that caused the problem and examine precisely what data has been gathered.

In a blog post, Alan Eustace, Google’s senior vice president of engineering and research, wrote: “Maintaining people’s trust is crucial to everything we do, and in this case we fell short.

“The engineering team at Google works hard to earn your trust – and we are acutely aware that we failed badly here.”

Google said the problem dated back to 2006 when “an engineer working on an experimental Wi-Fi project wrote a piece of code that sampled all categories of publicly broadcast Wi-Fi data”.

That code was included in the software the Street View cars. “Quite simply, it was a mistake”, said Mr Eustace.

He added: “This incident highlights just how publicly accessible, open, non-password protected Wi-Fi networks are today.”

Dan Kaminsky, the director of penetration testing for security firm Ioactive, said that there was no intent by Google.

He said: “This information was leaking out and they picked it up. If you are going to broadcast your email on an open Wi-Fi, don’t be surprised if someone picks it up.”

John Simpson, from Consumer Watchdog, an American consumer group, said: “The problem is [Google] have a bunch of engineers who push the envelope and gather as much information as they can and don’t think about the ramifications of that.”

The launch of Street View cars last year prompted widespread protest, with critics claiming that the information provided on Google Maps would invade the privacy of home owners and help burglars.

The Information Commissioner’s Office cleared Street View of any breach of the Data Protection Act earlier this year.

With Corporations like Google, who needs Dr Evil.


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