Google Comes Clean About Wi-Fi Network Data Collection

    May 14, 2010
    Chris Crum

Google opened up in a blog post today confirming that they have been collecting data from Wi-Fi networks with their Google Maps Street View Cars as they have driven around. This is a subject that has been brought up, but in a recent blog post Google said that it had not been collecting "payload data", but is now saying that it actually has been.

On the Official Google Blog, Alan Eustace, Senior VP, Engineering & Research writes:

Alan Eustace of Google Talks Wi-Fi Data CollectionIn that blog post, and in a technical note sent to data protection authorities the same day, we said that while Google did collect publicly broadcast SSID information (the WiFi network name) and MAC addresses (the unique number given to a device like a WiFi router) using Street View cars, we did not collect payload data (information sent over the network). But it’s now clear that we have been mistakenly collecting samples of payload data from open (i.e. non-password-protected) WiFi networks, even though we never used that data in any Google products.

However, we will typically have collected only fragments of payload data because: our cars are on the move; someone would need to be using the network as a car passed by; and our in-car WiFi equipment automatically changes channels roughly five times a second. In addition, we did not collect information traveling over secure, password-protected WiFi networks.

According to Eustace, the payload data collection was an accident. A piece of code had mistakenly been used in the software used in the Street View Cars, but there was never any intention to collect or use such data.

Google says its grounded its Street View cars and segregated data on its network, then disconnected to make it inaccessible. They are in the proces of trying to delete the data, pending regulatory guidance. They are also asking a third-party to review the problematic software and confirm that data is deleted, and they’re reviewing their procedures to prevent the same thing from happening again.

Perhaps most significantly, they’re stopping the collection of WiFi network data from Street View cars completely.

The company has also decided to offer an encrypted version of Google Search, similar to its encrypted Gmail offering.


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.