Google are hoovering up your wi-fi info - but it's all perfectly harmless!

google-street-view-roving-car-image Google have become involved in a mild skirmish with the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office over what they get up to in their roaming Street View Cars.

Last week, it emerged that German Street View cars had been collecting MAC addresses and SSIDs from residents’ wireless networks. Google admitted that their UK cars are also doing the same thing, causing the ICO to rouse itself and demand a bit of an explanation.

Naturally, it’s all perfectly innocent. Google explained that… “The data which we collect is used to provide location-based services within Google products and to users of the Geolocation API. For example, users of Google Maps for Mobile can turn on 'My Location' to identify their approximate location based on cell towers and Wi-Fi access points which are visible to their device." All good, innocent fun then.

But, if you’re worried, Google have reiterated that they don’t pick up any transmissions from your router . And don’t forget, “the operator of the access point can choose to restrict the SSID from broadcast, and in many cases this will mean that the SSID is not received” bleated their communiqué.

So if you see a Google Street View car parked up, it possibly means that the driver has discovered an unsecured network and is downloading the latest episode of Glee or True Blood on to his laptop. Or possibly not.

Google – it’s becoming increasingly easy to hate them isn’t it?



  • Nobby
    What's the problem? To me using this sort of data for positioning applications is not really any different to how people used to use pubs as landmarks for driving directions in days gone by. Go to the Rose and Crown, turn left, past Queen's head, then right at the King's Arms. Just substitute pub names for SSIDs, and you have the same thing, just with a finer mesh system than with pub names.
  • Whaaaa Computer Misuse Act 1990 An Act to make provision for securing computer material against unauthorised access or modification; and for connected purposes Basically making any unauthorised (read invited/allowed) connection, including Corporate sponsored wardriving/mapping illegal
  • Nobby
    Is it unauthorised access though? Surely by broadcasting information into a public area, then you are allowing access. If not, I break the law everyday, since my computer can pick up many of my neighbours' SSIDs.
  • Junkyard
    OMG, people are broadcasting radio signals from their house, and Google have the temerity to *receive* them? How dare they? Next you'll be telling me their servers store copies of all the email I receive on GMail.
  • Klingelton
    I fail to see a problem here. I see that google are mainly on our side for most the services they provide - which at the point of use are free (albiet with some mild advertising). I don't mind that they need to make their money in other ways. If you don't like what they do - don't use google maps. i bet you can't resist to see who was visiting your house the day the cameras went by and i bet you can't resist seeing if your neighbours dog is in the front garden. Bought/moved house recently? it was a god send for us - got to walk around the neighbourhood without ever leaving our seats!
  • WTF
    WTF!!!! IS DIS REAL???
  • snoogans81
    Would be nice if this rant explained what nefarious deeds google could actually do with this info . . . . . if anything at all that is.
  • Phil M.
    "Basically making any unauthorised (read invited/allowed) connection, including Corporate sponsored wardriving/mapping illegal" Are they actually connecting though? It doesn't sound any different to when I connect my laptop to my wifi, and my neighbours access points all pop up in the box as other possibilities? Still, changing your SSID to "Google employees rape disabled children" or the like might prove amusing
  • kully
    As most of the posters previously stated, iff you have your router to broadcast (look up the definition of that word) the SSID then I don't see any difference between this and someone giving directions to the effect "it's opposite the house with the blue door" - no-one is snooping on your data, just using your broadcast to locate where they are. Bitter Wallet turning slowly into the Daily Mail, perhaps?
  • GMail U.
    Stop pissing moaning..... If Google weren't allowed to do things like this then we would never have had Google Streetview.
  • SimbaK2K
    Nope Google can do no wrong, they provide some excellent services, the best search engine, and are downright awesome. Google!
  • Mike
    Surely obtaining people's MAC addresses is a breach of the Data Protection Act? The MAC address on your wireless adapter is your pesonally identifiable information. It can be used to trace your internet use , to locate your computer/ phone, to find out your ISP is, etc. There is a big difference between your SSID- a random broadcasting signal, and your own personal MAC address. This is an invasion of privacy without consent. Doesn't the ICO realise this? May be Bitterwallet, you can pass this on to them?
  • Nobby
    @Mike, google have already written to the ICO telling them what they are doing. Read the ZDNet link.
  • Tomass
    Mike, the MAC can not be used to trace internet access. It is only used between the router and wifi devices as a point to point link, no further than that. Google Maps is ace btw!
  • Si
    There's another point for the anti-Google peeps to consider... let them set this up and use it, then if you can persuade a load of people to turn off their routers at once you can hold Google's local search capability to ransom for as long as possible. :)
  • Pero
    >Basically making any unauthorised (read invited/allowed) connection, >including Corporate sponsored wardriving/mapping illegal They are not making any connections, they are just receiving information transmited by each wifi access point (packets are already in the air)
  • brendan
    Firstly, people who know nothing about how this works, i.e. Mike, should calm down and stop talking utter rubbish. Next time you turn on your laptop/iPhone/wifi device and it presents you with a list of yours and your neighbours access points, note them down along with your location i.e My house. Go to work/school/a friends house, turn on device and note down visible access points and your location. Repeat. That's ALL Google is doing, it doesn't connect to any network, it merely collects information YOU are broadcasting. If you don't like it, throw out your wifi router and kit your house out with cat 5 and tin foil. Secondly, I didn't see anyone complaining when Skyhook Wireless scanned the majority of the UK collecting the exact same information for their own positioning service (which is licensed to Apple for iPhone/iPod Touch use)
  • Jello B.
    Poor google, The Creepy Company (try harder not to cross the line next time). For anyone that still wants to use google but doesn't want them collecting the masses of info that they do, then is your friend. And of course the classic which uses ssl.
  • your n.
    why have pretty much all anti-google messages been removed/denied in moderation, yet the pro ones been allowed? Google bribe bitterwallet four stella and BW do their bidding. :/
  • Google B.
    [...] Google’s harmless little Street View cars had been tootling around the suburban areas of Germany, secretly picking up the MAC addresses and SSIDs from residents’ wireless [...]
  • KB
    are all of u guys really this retarded that u have to sit here and worry about google? i mean seriously, who doesnt use google maps...this is helpful, if u want to keep your little ssid to yourself, then by all means do, if not then suck it up and deal with it!
  • GeoScapes
    [...] bundling personal information garnered from unsecured networks, along with putatively “public” views. Yet the discrepancy of the vision points up the political imbalances in Google’s supposedly [...]

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