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

Google just issued an apology and announcement that it will no longer be collecting Wi-Fi network information for Street View. Judging by the level of groveling, this was a pretty big screwup.

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).

About the author

Dan Nosowitz is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Popular Science, The Awl, Gizmodo, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. He holds an undergraduate degree from McGill University and currently lives in Brooklyn, because he has a beard and glasses and that's the law