Google accused of 'criminal intent'

10 June 2010

google_logoIt looks like Google is "almost certain" to face prosecution after they collected data from unsecured wi-fi networks whilst going about their StreetView project, according to Privacy International (PI).

Google has released an independent audit of the rogue 'sniffing' code, which it has claimed was mistakenly included in the StreetView software. However, PI is still convinced that this audit proves "criminal intent".

"The independent audit of the Google system shows that the system used for the wi-fi collection intentionally separated out unencrypted content (payload data) of communications and systematically wrote this data to hard drives. This is equivalent to placing a hard tap and a digital recorder onto a phone wire without consent or authorisation," said PI in a statement.

"The Germans are almost certain to prosecute. Because there was intent, they have no choice but to prosecute," said Simon Davies, head of PI to the BBC. "I don't see any alternative but for us to go to Scotland Yard."

Google are blaming this error on an unnamed engineer and stated: "As we have said before, this was a mistake. The report today confirms that Google did indeed collect and store payload data from unencrypted wi-fi networks, but not from networks that were encrypted. We are continuing to work with the relevant authorities to respond to their questions and concerns."

PI are not having that though: "The idea that this was a work of a lone engineer doesn't add up. This is complex code and it must have been given a budget and been overseen. Google has asserted that all its projects are rigorously checked," said Mr Davies. "It goes to the heart of a systematic failure of management and of duty of care."


  • James C.
    Right - could someone explain what the issue is here? If you're using unencrypted wifi, then everything you do is visible to anyone within range of that wifi. Google isn't hacking anything here. That's why we have SSL connections, VPNs, etc - or even You might as well fine me for overhearing the conversation this morning between two idiots in the train.
  • Phil
    "This is equivalent to placing a hard tap and a digital recorder onto a phone wire without consent or authorisation,” said PI in a statement." No - wrong - its the equivilent of loudly shouting and be surprised someone with a tape recorder recorded it. If you use unsecured Wifi to transmit sensitive data you are a moron plain and simple. If google had broke the encryption fair enough but they haven't!!!!
  • Rumplestiltskin
    I agree with Phil & James - if you don't want your WiFi interrogated then encrypt it. But surely there should be a duty of care from Google and an element of trust. If I leave my back door open and someone steals my collection of vintage porn, then you could say it was my fault for leaving my door open - but should I not trust people to be decent and honest? I can't understand why Google need to snoop around in funny cars collecting this data - we all use Google everyday for searching and willingly allow them into our homes and onto our PCs, so therefore it must be fairly straightforward for them to collect whatever data they wanted.
  • Klingelton
    i don't think it'd be an issue if they hadn't "collected and stored" the data. I think that's the real issue here, not the fact that morons have broadcast from unsecured wireless networks.
  • One_Deen
    Google has acted with intent. It wasn't merely a case of over-hearing, they went out with equipment with the purposes of overhearing (for the want of a better word) other people's conversation. It would be the same as if I walked around the street with a sensitive recording equipment and recorded people's conversations in their private homes. Having said that, you are an idiot if you do not secure your WiFi networks. There are too many thieves out there with sophisticated equipment waiting to pounce on your data for the sole purposes of stealing data of value from you.
  • shiftybadger
    Isn’t it a criminal offence in this country to use someone’s unprotected wifi connection to access the internet etc? I agree with James and Phill to a point however, they stored packet information not just network names for their gps. If I did leave my backdoor open (not to bum foxes) and someone walked in and had a look around took some pictures and left without taking anything it would still be a breech of privacy. Now if I had my living room on the front lawn and someone took a picture is this different?
  • Mike H.
    Rumplestilskin, that is a good point, but is it OK for Google to let themselves in and have a look through your collection? Google haven't stollen your collection, but they've had a good look through it, and from what I can 'Google' it looks a pretty good collection. Can I borrow Cum Swapping Sluts: Back from the dead 3?
  • Andy B.
    You're all wrong. By connecting to the wireless network of someone, you instantly breach the telecommunications act 2003. Agreed people should protect there networks, but just because they don;t, doesn;t mean it should be legal for information to be gathered in this way
  • Andy B.
    And I forgot to add WTF IS DIS REAL
  • get r.
    Come on BW - fancy using an image of the old Google logo on this article - can't you get anything right?
  • -]
    Andy B - an oasis of common sense in a desert of idiocy.
  • Mr G.
    To the Google Apologists So you wouldn't mind if I picked your pockets if you hadn't zipped them up?
  • Phil
    "To the Google Apologists So you wouldn’t mind if I picked your pockets if you hadn’t zipped them up?" This isn't a pocket - its walking down the street throwing your money in the air and not catching all of it and not caring that you didn't.
  • Karl
    A lot of people seem to have misunderstood exactly what happened here. Google haven't transmitted anything, they've only received data. And in this case, the only data they can process is unencrypted data. So it's nothing like tapping a phone, nothing like entering someone's house and looking through their stuff and nothing like going through somebody's pockets. Instead, it's the same as walking past someone's house with a tape recorder and catching a bit of the loud music, or five seconds of Eastenders coming out of their window. Google haven't done anything proactive to get data from these people's networks - they're simply listening to the broadcasts from a public road. And let's be realistic, Google would simply be driving past - the chances of them getting anything useful are slim.
  • Martin F.
    Sorry I don't understand this, I don't believe google did connect to the network, I think they received and stored the unencrypted signals that were being freely transmitted into the public domain. Photographers are allowed to take pictures of anything that happens in a public place. People are perfectly entitled to video and record activities in a public place, so if people are stupid enough to freely transmit unencrypted data into a public place then yes it should be perfectly legal for people to take a look at it and use it for whatever purposes aslong as the activities dont break any criminal laws. I.e. theft, deception or electronic fraud etc. Google haven't done anything wrong here, if you leave your credit card lying in the street, is it illegal for someone to look at it? If you leave your photographs in the street is it illegal for someone to look at it? No. . . . so why should electronic data be any different.

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