By Ben Spielberg
Google is becoming quite the industry—what once started as a simple, no frills search engine, has now become a manufacturer of cell phones, medium for news, and even a full featured mapping and GPS service. Part of Google Maps is the “Street View” feature—a way to look at the map from a real perspective. For instance, I can type in the address of Beit T’Shuvah (8831 Venice Blvd) and this is what shows up:
To put it simply, Google attaches panoramic cameras to cars and drives them around the world—including but not limited to the U.S., France, and most recently, Ireland. However, these cars don’t just collect pictures of homes, businesses, and other foliage—they collect data. For instance, they collect the names of our WiFi networks, and the respective router numbers. This is all public information, but it turns out that Google has been “accidentally” collecting more than that. Google has also collected “payload data,” which is means they now have random data of whatever non-encrypted activity somebody was doing when the cars drove by.
When officers in France pulled over one of Google’s cars for an inspection, it came to their attention that this is an infringement on the public’s privacy, and promptly fined Google over $140,000. It is hard to say whether or not a lesson has been learned; for instance, every time I hear about any innovative company like Google or Apple doing something new, I am unquestionably excited. However, maybe I shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the creators of my search engines and the makers of my phone—you never know what information I am giving them without warning.
- France Fines Google for Street View WiFi Data Grab (searchenginewatch.com)
- France fines Google for Street View collection of Wi-Fi data (macworld.com)