Google Street View's innocent data-gathering turns sinister
A couple of weeks ago, we alerted you to the fact that 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 networks.
But Google reassured everyone that it was all just a piece of good, harmless knockabout fun – no one was getting impaled on any spikes and 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.”
Cool – and most of you who commented agreed, pointing out that the info Google were collecting was being publicly transmitted and that there’s nothing sinister about Google harvesting it like data-sucking cyber-leeches.
But uh oh, what’s this? It turns out that the Street View cars have ALSO been inadvertently recording short bursts of people’s internet activity while they tootled by. Shitting Ada!
When Google’s data harvest was analysed in Hamburg, it transpired that it included 'payload data' - the content of IP packets - as well as the harmless little MACs and SSIDs. Google went a bit red before explaining that one of their boffins had added the payload data capability to an experimental version of Street View four years ago and then forgot to remove it. WELL WE’VE ALL DONE IT AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER!
Peter Barron, a spokesman for Google, said: “We didn't want to collect this data in the first place and we would like to destroy it as soon as possible,” before adding, “Look! A dog with a puffy tail!” and then running away when everyone turned around to see it. Probably. Now it looks as though Google could have some explaining to do to authorities in the USA and Germany – and that could just be for starters.
Meanwhile, The Onion seems to have some exclusive Google news...