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Google Privacy Wireless Networking Your Rights Online

My Location the Next Google Privacy Controversy? 167

Posted by samzenpus
from the learning-to-trust-the-google dept.
theodp writes "While Google boasts one of its Privacy Principles is making the collection of personal information transparent, even techies are left guessing about what's going on behind the scenes of certain products. The American Dictator points out that Google's Wi-Fi collection efforts don't stop with its Street View cars, offering up this explanation of Google's My Location: 'When you allow Google to "know your location," what you are really agreeing to is to send to Google's computers your Wi-Fi environment — not only the name of the Wi-Fi hotspot you are logged into, but also the names and signal strengths of every Wi-Fi hotspot around you. In other words, the same things that those Google Street View cars were sucking up as they drove by your house.' So, will changes in privacy attitude prompt changes in Latitude?"
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My Location the Next Google Privacy Controversy?

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  • Pfew! (Score:2, Funny)

    by RivenAleem (1590553)

    This make me glad I never use he internet, ever.

  • Not unusual (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Miros (734652) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @10:10AM (#32417962)
    This method of radio-location is not special or unusual in any way. If anything, it is rather common and not even innovative on google's part. Several firms have exited for _years_ which focus on location based services as determined by nearby hotspots. Also, Latitude is littered with warnings about the nature of the service, and the fact that your location information will be sent back to Google. Of course, this is even less interesting when you consider the fact that your cell phone carrier already knows all of this information all the time and always has, which nobody makes any fuss about whatsoever.
    • Re:Not unusual (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Dishevel (1105119) * on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @10:28AM (#32418176)
      I just want google to tell me that if I move 20 yards SSW I will be able to log onto strong open wifi connection.
    • Re:Not unusual (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Trufagus (1803250) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @10:28AM (#32418180)
      Yeah, and its a bit scary that we have such misinformation even here on /. where we are supposed to know a lot about things like Wi-Fi and geolocation. How does such a misinformed and misleading topic description get through?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Skyhook wireless [skyhookwireless.com] is one major one. It's what the iPod Touch and original iPhone used. It's what Snow Leopard / Location services uses.

      You do get a popup asking if you want to enable it.

    • which nobody makes any fuss about whatsoever.

      Don't write us off that fast!

    • Not to mention its trivially easy to switch off location services on Android - no clue about other smart phones.

  • Holy shit! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @10:13AM (#32417988)

    You mean that in order to use a service that uses your Wifi surroundings to determine your location, you have to send the service data about your Wifi surroundings? Holy shit!

    Next, you'll tell me you have to send your private, personal *search terms* to Google to get search results - the horror!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Wait, you mean those words I type into the text field actually GO somewhere?

      I thought Google worked like something out of Harry Potter.

    • Woah, dude. I just heard that even if you use Google's encrypted search service, they still know what your searching for!!!!!!

      That's like, not encrypted at all then! I want my searches to be secret from Google! This is false advertising.

    • by ukyoCE (106879)

      Seriously. Another worthless post trying to scare-monger about Google from the author theodp. Why is Slashdot posting this crap on the front page?

  • Privacy (Score:2, Funny)

    by dandart (1274360)
    I'm a government spy, you insensitive clods!
  • by John Hasler (414242) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @10:17AM (#32418040) Homepage

    That makes it public. Google is merely asking you to forward some public information to them. You may, if you wish, decline.

    • by gad_zuki! (70830) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @10:27AM (#32418164)

      Not to mention the summary is a troll. What google did wrong with its earlier program was actually capture unencrypted packets. These location services (google is not the only one) simply create a database of wifi names and correlate them to GPS. I don't see the problem here. If you dont want me to write down your hotspot's ssid then I suggest you stop broadcasting it.

      • These location services (google is not the only one) simply create a database of wifi names and correlate them to GPS. I don't see the problem here. If you dont want me to write down your hotspot's ssid then I suggest you stop broadcasting it.

        Not quite. Skyhook provides the same service for Apple, and they work by correlating MAC addresses [skyhookwireless.com] of APs with location.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @10:47AM (#32418400)

      Eh, I honestly don't know about that. It's happening in public, but does that make it public in a narrow sense?

      Imagine you're chatting with a friend while you're walking down the street. Is it OK if anybody records your conversation (perhaps even without your knowledge and/or approval), stores it indefinitely, and does - well - basically anything they want with it? Is it OK if it's being sold or otherwise passed on? Is it OK if private companies do this? Your employer? The government?

      I'm not sure where the line should be drawn, but "it's happening in public, therefore anything and everything is automatically fair game" strikes me as overly simplistic.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by farble1670 (803356)

        Imagine you're chatting with a friend while you're walking down the street. Is it OK if anybody records your conversation (perhaps even without your knowledge and/or approval), stores it indefinitely, and does - well - basically anything they want with it? Is it OK if it's being sold or otherwise passed on? Is it OK if private companies do this? Your employer? The government?

        yes, actually whatever you do in public is in the public domain.

        don't like people knowing your SSID? don't broadcast it. don't like people knowing your get sloppy drunk every day after work? do it in the privacy of your own home.

  • People go to great pains to send a hundred mW throughout the air as far as it'll go, and are surprised when it does just that?

    I'm on a volunteer ambulance squad; being a nerd I made a python script to scrape our crappy eDispatch provider's website for our dispatches and assemble them on a nice website. There was a big fight over password protecting this... despite the fact that we are going to great pains and expense to pump the very same information at about 50W. I ended up throwing a trivial password on it, until everybody forgot.

    Point is, people don't seem to understand the 'broad' part of 'broadcast', and get annoyed that they don't have full control of the signals they emanate past their walls.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I completely agree, it's surprising how many people think that when they send something to EVERYONE, that they have no ability to tell EVERYONE that "that was a secret. don't tell anybody, K?"
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @10:32AM (#32418216)

      How many people have scanners these days?
      How many people have the Internet?

      Now do you understand why there might be concern about putting the dispatches in a central location on the Internet?

      There are a lot of idiots out there, and they can really waste your time. That really is the biggest pitfall of open information, imo.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by drinkypoo (153816)

        How many people have scanners these days?
        How many people have the Internet?

        Now do you understand why there might be concern about putting the dispatches in a central location on the Internet

        I have got to study my logical fallacies again. I can tell that this is one, but not which one it is.

        Put in simple English, however, it might go something like this: Scanners are cheap, especially the ones which can only handle a couple of frequencies, which is all you need to monitor dispatches. In fact, I have not only regularly seen them on Craigslist for $10, but I occasionally see them on Freecycle for nothing. Anyone who is motivated to scan these dispatches, therefore, can do so. You could panhandle

    • Point is, people don't seem to understand the 'broad' part of 'broadcast'

      Or the 'cast' part.

  • OP is confused... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Manip (656104) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @10:29AM (#32418182)

    The recent privacy controversy was never about Google detecting and recording the names, unique IDs, and signal strength of local WiFi hotspots -- It was about Google mistakenly recording traffic, including unencrypted information that anyone could easily utilise.

    In addition to that, there are only four ways to locate someone connected to the Internet:
      - GeoIP which can perhaps pin you down to a city, perhaps even a town,
      - WiFi triangulation which can pin you down to within a few metres
      - Latency triangulation which is frankly uncompletely unworkable on something as complex as the internet
      - IP->Postal Address Mapping (Read: ISP's database)

    Obviously only two of these are workable for someone like Google and GoeIP is completely inaccurate. No ISP is going to give Google access to their address database.

    • by vlm (69642) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @10:57AM (#32418514)

      No ISP is going to give Google access to their address database.

      No residential ISP. Commercial guys usually fill out the WHOIS form when they assign addresses. Otherwise ARIN gets agitated and may or may not give you more IP space when you ask for it. (Response will read something like: You want another /18? WTF? whois claims your most recent /18 is only 1% utilized?)

    • He's clearly very angry at Google, if you've paid attention to some of his other submissions. He just doesn't have a solid grasp of the facts, and no matter how many times it gets explained to him that he doesn't understand the situation, he just submits another stupid anti-Google story and for some reason, it gets posted by Slashdot.

      http://yro.slashdot.org/story/10/05/29/0818219/Google-Describes-Wi-Fi-Sniffing-In-Pending-Patent [slashdot.org]

      That's the previous, but not the only other, one. His summary in that one star

      • by AHuxley (892839)
        Re Google had originally denied this story and then were forced to "reverse themselves"
        Really Google seems to have understood it was illegal in Germany to intercept and store data that was not intended for Google but gave it a go anyway.
        They tried to sneak under the fog of emerging digital complexity and get all they could while they could.
        They only mentioned the Germany and Ireland early on until the press exposed their non photo activities to more regulators around the world.
        Then you had the long lis
    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Google mistakenly recording traffic around the world with data flowing in all the time - sure.
      Apple or MS show what an OS firm can fail at when doing mobile or game consoles. Bad encryption, data loss, no code reviews ect.
      This is Googles core activity, and google prides its self in not hiring MS or Apple quality workers at the mid and low end.
  • If you have Google Maps on your phone (iPhone excluded), and you have wifi enabled, it will give you your 'wifi location'. That means google already knows about where the wif access points are? But how does it know you ask? Well, when you walk around with GPS enabled, and wifi enabled, Google seems to take this data and correllate it so that it has that access point mapped out. While I don't have any kind of reference for this, I've seen it done (new router, no other wifi around, and bingo after enough
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by John Hasler (414242)

      > ...I am concerned about them capturing packet data.

      Then don't broadcast it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by maxume (22995)

        You've said that half a dozen times or so.

        There really is a fundamental difference between traditional surveillance and cheap, mass technological data collection (At a minimum, cost!). It makes sense to acknowledge that difference in our laws, rather that just spitting on people when they don't understand how pervasive the monitoring is, or what the full implications of their actions may be.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          There really is a fundamental difference between traditional surveillance and cheap, mass technological data collection (At a minimum, cost!). It makes sense to acknowledge that difference in our laws, rather that just spitting on people when they don't understand how pervasive the monitoring is, or what the full implications of their actions may be.

          There really is a fundamental difference between writing something on a piece of paper and putting it in a drawer, or narrowly unicasting it to another host via a wire with minimal RF radiation, and mass broadcasting the data (At a mininum, those who are trivially able to receive your message!). It makes sense to acknowledge that difference in your personal data policy, rather than just spitting on people when they receive the data that you have broadcast.

          Why is it that people are capable of understanding t

          • by dzfoo (772245)

            I'll bite.

            Because the general public does not understand the underlying technology that makes computer networks work, and so may not understand the difference between connecting two computers by wire or by radio. Thus, it should be reasonable to expect them to not automatically equate the latter to broadcasting using CB radio.

                    -dZ.

            • by drinkypoo (153816)

              Because the general public does not understand the underlying technology that makes computer networks work, and so may not understand the difference between connecting two computers by wire or by radio. Thus, it should be reasonable to expect them to not automatically equate the latter to broadcasting using CB radio.

              The general public doesn't understand the underlying technology behind a can opener, but it doesn't prevent them from using one to open cans. Further, they really don't understand the principles behind a POTS telephone, let alone a walkie-talkie, but that doesn't prevent them from using either, or from understanding that the walkie-talkie broadcasts their message in all directions. To not extend this logic to communications between computers is irrational at best, as there is nothing counterintuitive to gra

              • by dzfoo (772245)

                I'm sure that the users of telephone systems were as bewildered by the communications networks at the turn of the 19th century as users are today by computer networks. Over 100 years of the technology permeating our society in many facets has allowed the technology to be demystified, and its concerns to be understood. Computer networks--specifically, end-to-end user communications such Wi-Fi networks--are fairly new.

                You can be sure that the common man will not understand, say, the privacy implications of

            • by cynyr (703126)

              Then they shouldn't be using it, or they should be using the internet to learn about how this all works. The public does understand the idea of a password though, and so if you don't need a password (www.foxnews.com) anyone can get to it, but posting as you requires a password.

              To head off an argument I can see coming, Microwaves work by exciting water molecules, causing them to vibrate and warm up, causing my food to warm up. No water, no warming in a conventional microwave. Also mayonnaise is an emulsion

              • by drinkypoo (153816)

                No water, no warming in a conventional microwave.

                Actually, that is not true. Microwaves interact with almost anything with mass, which is why line of sight is so important in microwave transmission, and why rain affects cellphone communications.

              • by dzfoo (772245)

                I agree, people should be better educated. I disagree with the premise that such understanding is obvious to begin with.

                        -dZ.

    • by dn15 (735502) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @10:52AM (#32418472)

      If you have Google Maps on your phone (iPhone excluded), and you have wifi enabled, it will give you your 'wifi location'. That means google already knows about where the wif access points are?

      Actually iPhone OS devices use wifi location too and have for quite some time. If your iPhone can't get a GPS fix, or if you have an original GPS-less iPhone, or if you have an iPod or wifi iPad, it will fall back on cell towers or wifi to determine your location. This functionality is built into the OS and works with any app that uses the location APIs.

      You can't specifically enable/disable wifi location on iPhone, it's just another tool that may be used if location services are enabled but GPS is not available.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by QBasicer (781745)
        I guess I don't mean that iPhone doesn't have wifi location - it's the provider of that information. Last I checked it was Skyhook [skyhookwireless.com] who provided the data, not Google. Maybe the iPhone collects and aggregates the information in a similar fashion, but they don't share data back and forth. My phone knew where my old apartment was by wifi, but my iPod touch had no clue. In fact, my phone (WinMo) knew where I was everywhere in the city without ever turning on GPS, but, once again, my iPod had no idea.
        • by dn15 (735502)

          You're right, iPhone OS is different in that it doesn't use Google for its wifi data. Thanks for clarifying that!

          On a related note: In my limited testing I found that wifi triangulation worked surprisingly well on a wifi-only iPad – provided that I was in a reasonably well-populated area of course.

      • by Blakey Rat (99501)

        You can disable wifi location, but only by disabling wifi altogether. AFAIK, you can't disable wifi location-finding while keeping wifi on.

        Note that if you have wifi off, the iPhone/iWhatever will use the nearest cell tower as your "base" when showing maps, before it gets a fix from the GPS. Maybe someone should sue those cell phone companies for making their towers broadcast their location...

  • I don't understand how Google tracking wifi networks is bad for me.

    And I don't understand why Google wants that information in the first place. How does knowing my SSID help them?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by vlm (69642)

      And I don't understand why Google wants that information in the first place.

      Maybe they think its hilarious to run "SELECT COUNT(*) FROM WIFI_GEOLOCATION_TABLE WHERE SSID='Linksys'"

    • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:08AM (#32418668)
      "I don't understand how Google tracking wifi networks is bad for me."

      They, or someone with access to their data, might abuse the information. If Google were a small, local company, doing this sort of thing for a single locale, it would not be so terrible -- but they are a huge, international operation, tying information together from all over the world, and using that information to determine more details about a person than that person agreed to reveal. There is a very high potential for abuse, and this is one of those situations where once the abuse starts, it will already be too late.
      • There is a very high potential for abuse

        Really? Please describe the nature of this potential.

        • by AHuxley (892839)
          A small cafe. Open wifi to keep the coffee flowing for that extra cup.
          One day someone uploads to the press about a local issue.
          Local interests fear more exposure and get the origin of the leak.
          They have the MAC, IP. Trace the MAC as the unit was paid for by credit card ("cop" makes a few calls) and get the local surveillance tapes.
          No warrant, much less paper work needed and they have Googles GeoAds v3.1 wifi coupon and banner software to light up all MACS in their city.
          A known face is noted, no more l
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      And I don't understand why Google wants that information in the first place. How does knowing my SSID help them?

      Unique combinations of SSID and MAC (neither of which is unique on its own but which can reasonably be expected to be unique when combined except where someone has deliberately made it otherwise) can be associated with GPS locations when mapped by devices which possess GPS and then used to find the locations of devices which do not, later, and therefore used to perform geolocation of GPS-less devices. Now, go forth and write your article, and be sure to either give me credit or substantially alter my text.

    • How does knowing my SSID help them?

      well, they don't care that it's yours per se. they map your SSID to an approximate address. that goes into a database. now when someone else's phone sees that same network, voila, they know approximately where that person is. you get GPS-like abilities on a device with no GPS hardware.

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Its just the first step in a line of steps.
      They want law reform to scan networks that are not theirs.
      Long term they want to sell ads on your phone/idevice as you walk, ride, drive down a street.
      Pass a cafe, get a free coupon for an extra coffee sent to you ect.
      Sounds so yummy, sci fi and benign.
      Many new wifi modems have the MAC on the box. Pay with a credit card and that MAC is linked to you over the life of the product.
      With lax new digital privacy laws for public and private information someone can b
  • Always bragging about how Android does this, how Android does that.

    Well, the iPhone was doing this *first*! Put that in your I/O socket and smoke it.

  • I've managed my personal information for a long time, being careful what's public and what's not. For example, I make no secret about my home phone number. My home address, on the other hand, is strictly confidential, and only a handful of people know it.

    If you type my name in to a search engine you will find me, as well as lots of other people with the same name as me. You will find what I want you to know about me. There is information about me that is not on the Internet (one biggie in particular), and

  • Good jeorb editors.

    Wi-Fi environment -- not only the name of the Wi-Fi hotspot you are logged into, but also the names and signal strengths of every Wi-Fi hotspot around you. In other words, the same things that those Google Street View cars were sucking up as they drove by your house.

    This is complete BS. First of all, Latitude makes it exactly clear what they are doing, this is how the iPod Touch does location (btw, anyone else get really annoyed when people call it the iTouch, or is that just me?), along

  • You don't have to guess what Google does because they do the same thing everybody else does.

    Skyhook and lots of other companies have WLAN geolocation databases. Lots of phone apps use such databases and services, including iPhone and Nokia.

    EyeFi and other cameras determine your location from visible WiFi APs and encode it in your images. They probably transmit your locations to your server. When you upload your images to Flickr, Picasa, or your own web site, you transmit that information along.

    HTML5 has

  • This is the not the first time he has submitted biased garbage masquerading as fact in his own personal crusade against Google and for some reason someone keeps approving his ridiculous submissions. For gods sake, can we start out discussions out with real questions instead of "So why do hate America, Google?"

    Let's take a look at some of the other crap he's submitted and has subsequently been posted:

    Here we have: Are Googlers too smart for their own good?
    http://developers.slashdot.org/story/10/05/21/142724 [slashdot.org]

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Googles expose was limited to Ireland and seemed all cleared up.
      The press and govs then did their jobs. Googles later notes on collecting payload data where very limited.
      Note the reaction to the German govs request to see the data too.
      Googlers too smart for their own good would be one car, one city ect. Google seems to have had a more global "Accident "and kept details for as long as it could.
      • I believe you're mistaken on the time-line.

        Ireland was smart and simply asked Google to delete the data that was collected from Ireland. This was done. This was done after they made the announcement that they had accidentally collected the data. The only reason they ONLY deleted Ireland's data and not all the other data at the same time was because other governments had indicated they would view such actions as destroying evidence.

        Now the German government puts Google in an impossible position by asking

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