The Google Beast
The phenomenal success of Google is truly amazing and a testament to the concept of free enterprise. Google is also an example of crony capitalism growing out of control with the recent controversy involving one of its former employees who now works for the administration of our dear comrade leader. (story here) Talk about an inside track to the government – ugh.
One of the most disturbing revelations to come to light recently illustrates how Google has become a data sucking monster that threatens everyone’s privacy. Unlike the recent privacy concerns involving Facebook, where you have the option to cancel your account or not open one to begin with, Google’s data mining affects everyone within range of their Street View vehicles. As this story (from PCWorld) points out, Google has been collecting info from wireless networks while photographing.
Right about now Facebook should be sending Google a bouquet of roses and a box of chocolates, because the search/advertising giant has committed a privacy violation that makes Facebook’s recent troubles seem trivial.The skinny: Google has been Hoovering up data from open WiFi networks around the world — some 600 gigs’ worth, according to the AP — which is tantamount to wiretapping and may well violate federal and international laws.
Now that I’ve got your attention, here’s some background.
When Google sends its fleet of camera-equipped cars into the streets to snap pictures of your neighborhood for its Street View product, these cars are also collecting something a little extra: The name and unique MAC address of every open WiFi network they encounter along the way.
While most people have encrypted networks, there are still many who run them wide open. Of the 7 wireless networks I can see from my laptop at home, 4 of them are not password protected. These people are at risk in more ways than one.
Here’s something nobody — including apparently most of the people at Google — knew until last week. In addition to the SSID and MAC address, Google’s WiFi antennas were also siphoning off unencrypted data as it passed through wireless routers and out onto the InterWebs. That could potentially include email, passwords, Facebook or Twitter status updates, Web sites visited — really, anything not protected by an encrypted SSL (https:) connection.
According to the article, this was a result of a bug in Google’s software – at least that’s what Google claims.
Apparently, a bug in the software Google has been using since 2007 automatically collected some of this data. Google itself wasn’t even aware of this data collection (and as recently as April 27 firmly denied it). Google only discovered this after the Data Protection Authority in Hanover, Germany, demanded Google audit its WiFi data.
Since then, Google has admitted it screwed up, bad. It’s stopped collecting this data and begun deleting it, under the direction of various countries where the data was collected. And it will introduce an encrypted search option next week.
Combine this with Google’s tentacles into the federal government and you have a prescription for disaster.