Big Trouble for Google and Street Car View Data

by Anya Jennings on June 21, 2010

It would have been better if Google hadn’t used the security risk excuse to get rid of Microsoft Windows inside of its company. Back in January of this year, Google started removing Windows OS from all of its company desktop computers citing security problems as the reason for their decision. Many analysts feel Google is really getting rid of Windows because it wants to push Google Chrome OS. These analysts are probably correct. However, it seems that Google has new some security problems of its own that appear to be growing.

Google Street Map Views

Apparently the Street View Cars that Google started using in 2007 to gather street data for Google Maps in the United States, Ireland, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong Spain and France, collected people’s personal data via WI-FI.  This personal data included user e-mails and passwords.  After conducting an audit at the request of the German government Google admitted to having collected such data accidentally.

According to the Financial Times Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO has admitted, “We screwed up. Let’s be very clear about that. If you are honest about your mistakes it is the best defense for it not happening again.” As of May 14, Google has stopped collecting Street View Cars Wi-Fi data.

How Did It Happen?

How did one of the largest software companies in the world collect all of this data without knowing it? Well, according to a blog posted by Alan Eustace, Senior VP, Engineering & Research for Google:

…. it was a mistake. In 2006 an engineer working on an experimental Wi-Fi project wrote a piece of code that sampled all categories of publicly broadcast Wi-Fi data. A year later, when our mobile team started a project to collect basic Wi-Fi network data like SSID information and MAC addresses using Google’s Street View cars, they included that code in their software—although the project leaders did not want, and had no intention of using, payload data

What is Going to Happen?

Google troubles seem to be escalating. The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has started an investigation; Google is under investigation in France, Italy, and Germany and, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, Australia. In the United States the Connecticut Attorney wants to know if Google collected any personal data over wireless networks in his state. Two Pacific Northwest Oregon residents have filed a class action lawsuit against Google and its use of Street View Cars that could cost Google millions of dollars.  And, according to Reuters the “U.S. Federal Trade Commission has already begun an informal inquiry into the matter.”

Security Issues

Google pointing at Microsoft’s security glitches and Microsoft pointing at Google’s security glitches does not help either company in the public relations battle or the sales war. Most people don’t want their personal data floating around in cyber space regardless of the reason.

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