Google confesses it collected Wi-Fi data

The admission, made in an official blog post by Alan Eustace, Google's engineering chief, comes a month after regulators in Europe started asking the search giant questions about Street View, the layer of real-world photographs accessible from Google Maps.
Regulators wanted to know what data Google collects as its camera-laden cars methodically troll through neighborhoods, and what Google does with that data.

Google appears to have acted quickly after the questions were raised. Two weeks ago, Google said it did collect certain kinds of data around the world that identify Wi-Fi networks to help improve its mapping products.
The data on wireless networks can be used for advertising services for mobile phones, which can be pinpointed via a wireless network even if they lack a GPS chip. But the company said it did not collect or store “payload data” — the information being transmitted by users over unprotected networks.
In a confession made Friday that is sure to raise questions about its privacy policies, Google said that its claims were wrong.
Eustace wrote that a review of the Street View software has revealed that due to a programming error in 2006, the company has been mistakenly collecting snippets of data that happened to be transmitted over non-password protected Wi-Fi networks that the 

Google camera cars were passing. This occurred in Europe, in the United States and in other major cities elsewhere.
Eustace tried to play down the revelation, saying that Google “never used that data in any Google products.”
Google said it has temporarily halted its Street View cars and will stop collecting Wi-Fi data. Eustace said Google wants to delete the data, in cooperation with regulators, as soon as possible.
But the revelation is likely to set off a firestorm of protest and possibly new legal problems. Google could be accused of intercepting private communications and violating wiretap laws in the United States

Credit: By BRAD STONE New York Times


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