Constitutional Law

Google Admits Its Street View Cars Collected Personal Wi-Fi Data


For years, Google assured the world that its Street View cars weren’t violating anyone’s privacy as they took photos used for Internet maps that allow users to focus in on homes, vehicles and even individuals on the street.

But now the search engine goliath is, in effect, admitting that it inadvertently did so. Since 2006, due to a programming error, its Street View vehicles have also collected payload data from Wi-Fi accounts that weren’t password-protected, reports the Bits blog of the New York Times.

The admission in a Friday-night (in Europe) official blog post by Google engineering chief Alan Eustace follows pointed questions by European regulators about the real-world street photos available via Google Maps.

By gathering snippets of data in this manner, the company apparently may have violated U.S. wiretap laws, the Times article states.

Google has apologized for the mistake, temporarily grounded its Street View cars and promises to delete the data, in cooperation with regulators.

Although Google didn’t specify exactly what kind of data may have been collected, a computer security expert tells Reuters that that material could well have included e-mail content, Web-surfing activity and passwords.

Additional coverage:

Law & Disorder (Ars Technica): “Google Street View cars snarfed wireless data along with WiFi”

Signal Strength (CNET News): “Google: Oops, we spied on your Wi-Fi”

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