Google Stops Wi-Fi Mapping Project After "Mistakenly" Scoring Personal Data

Google Street View car

AFP reports that Google is frantically attempting to get rid of data the company now wishes it hadn't acquired. Google sends out cars across the world for mapping purposes as well as photographing at ground level for Street View. They've also been using those Street View cars to map unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots, presumably to insert them into Google Maps so travelers will be able to find places with available wireless Internet.

It's a cool idea, but apparently some information found its way from that survey into Google's servers. Most unsecured wireless networks are intentionally unsecured, like in cafes or public hotspots. But some are unsecured because its users either don't know or don't care that a lack of security puts their data at risk. Google's Street View cars were gathering more data than they wanted or needed, it seems.

Nothing illegal was happening here; there was no hacking involved (these are unsecured, after all) and it's very doubtful there was malicious intent. But it's still creepy for Google to have access to personal data gathered from a roving high-tech car outside your window. Said Alan Eustace, a Google senior VP:

The engineering team at Google works hard to earn your trust -- and we are acutely aware that we failed badly here. We are profoundly sorry for this error and are determined to learn all the lessons we can from our mistake.

Basically, eep. Looks like the European governments' reaction to Google Street View isn't as positive as ours here in North America. But Google seems all too aware that they have to fix this, thoroughly and soon.

Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in San Francisco (no link for that one--you'll have to do the legwork yourself).

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2 Comments

  • Chris Kless

    "Nothing illegal was happening here; there was no hacking involved (these are unsecured, after all)" Not necessarily true. In some locales in the US, accessing even an 'open' wireless network is illegal and carries the same penalties as actively hacking a network. (http://askbobrankin.com/is_fre... I think technically it would have been difficult for Google to ascertain whether the wireless was indeed 'open', like a McDonalds, or somebody who just dumped a router on their network and never changed the defaults. I have noticed that most wireless routers I purchase for clients now come with wireless disabled by default and their assisted install screens prompt to secure the wireless. Still, on any given day I can drive around with my iPhone in the car and pick up dozens of open networks.