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Google Admits Street View Cars Stole WiFi Data

Gordon Kelly


Google Admits Street View Cars Stole WiFi Data

Is this Google's worst nightmare?

If you listen to conspiracy theories the tech giant is regularly accused of secretly collecting our data for nefarious purposes, something Google has long denied - until now.

In an exposé which is likely to fuel even greater conspiracy theories for years to come, Google has admitted its Street View cars have been collecting information from WiFi networks as they passed by. This includes networks' SSID (WiFi network name), MAC addresses (the unique number given to each device on a WiFi network) and payload data (information sent over the network. Oh dear me.

The upside? It only occurred with open (ie non-password protected) WiFi networks and Google promises it was a complete accident.

"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," announced Google engineering and research senior VP Alan Eustace. "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 {sic} over secure, password-protected WiFi networks."

"So how did this happen? Quite simply, it was a mistake," Eustace continued. "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."

Since the discovery Google says it has grounded all Street View cars and segregated the data on its network. It has also asked third party regulators to step in and independently dispose of the information. From now on it promises all Street View cars will cease collecting WiFi data.

"The engineering team at Google works hard to earn your trust—and we are acutely aware that we failed badly here," Eustace concluded. "We are profoundly sorry for this error and are determined to learn all the lessons we can from our mistake."

Lesson number 1: PROTECT your WiFi connections people (especially in light of the horrendous consequences of the Digital Economy Act).

Lesson number 2: With Street View's next phase to be filming inside shop stores you can never line your home with too much lead...


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