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Google Relents, Will Hand Over European Wi-Fi Data 214

Posted by timothy
from the at-least-we-know-the-govts-won't-abuse-it dept.
itwbennett writes "Having previously denied demands from Germany that the company turn over hard drives with data it secretly collected from open wireless networks over the past three years, Google has reversed course. A Google representative said that it will hand over the data to German, French, and Spanish authorities within a matter of days, according to the Financial Times, which first reported this latest development on Wednesday. 'We screwed up. Let's be very clear about that,' Google CEO Eric Schmidt told the newspaper."
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Google Relents, Will Hand Over European Wi-Fi Data

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  • Great (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lennier1 (264730) on Friday June 04, 2010 @02:08AM (#32454984)

    They're opening up a whole warehouse full of cans of worms by handing the data over to a government with plenty of agendas instead of destroying it.

    • Re:Great (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Third Position (1725934) on Friday June 04, 2010 @02:17AM (#32455032)

      True. But they opened the first can of worms by collecting it in the first place.

      • Re:Great (Score:5, Interesting)

        by micksam7 (1026240) * on Friday June 04, 2010 @02:29AM (#32455092)

        They opened the can of worms by announcing that they had collected it. If they stayed silent, and shredded the data quietly, they'd probably wouldn't be in this mess and no one would have known they ever did it. Google instead has been trying to make this situation 'right' by being transparent about it, and no one gives a crap about it. The governments certainly are going to grab that data, use it as evidence to prosecute Google, and keep it around for ~other reasons~ for years upon years.

        • Re:Great (Score:5, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 04, 2010 @03:45AM (#32455458)

          They opened the can of worms by announcing that they had collected it. If they stayed silent, and shredded the data quietly, they'd probably wouldn't be in this mess and no one would have known they ever did it. Google instead has been trying to make this situation 'right' by being transparent about it, and no one gives a crap about it. The governments certainly are going to grab that data, use it as evidence to prosecute Google, and keep it around for ~other reasons~ for years upon years.

          eh.. you do know that they only announced this after governments in Europe requested to audit their data collection in general? The ball was already rolling on this, and they were smart in rolling with it. But this was not something Google just announced out of the blue on their own without outside pressure.

          And Google has a patent pending on the method they used to collect this data.. Accident my ass.

          • by LingNoi (1066278)

            Google has a patent pending on the method they used to collect this data

            They used code from a different project. Just because they have patented the technique (which is stupid in itself because of how novel it is) doesn't mean it's in anyway related to the data collection they've been doing.

            • by delinear (991444)
              Google is one of the big tech companies that will patent technologies to prevent patent trolls doing the same and using it to milk them in the future. It's not unreasonable that they'd patent everything connected with such a big undertaking to cover themselves, neither is it beyond the realms of belief that they'd re-use code from another project (Google have been known to release buggy code before). I'm sure they're smart enough that if they were actually doing something underhand, they'd have collected mo
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by orkysoft (93727)

        They could have announced it after they destroyed it.

      • Re:Great (Score:5, Insightful)

        by thegarbz (1787294) on Friday June 04, 2010 @03:49AM (#32455482)
        Only for those of you who apply all your thoughts on privacy entirely inconsistently.

        Few months ago on slashdot someone published a list of every wifi hotspot on their train line. Where was the uproar then? Cops want to reserve the right no to be photographed in public, and people complain (rightfully so) that what they do in public should be recordable with no recourse. Now google drives a car down the streets and collects your publicly visible information (SSID) and you complain again that they should not be collecting private data?

        How come every ideal on slashdot is applied so haphazardly? Make a choice people. Should something that anyone can see from your street be private, or public?

        As a side note, how many people complaining about Google's collection of wireless information actually bothered to uncheck that little box that says "Broadcast SSID"?
        • RTFA (Score:4, Informative)

          by dangitman (862676) on Friday June 04, 2010 @04:58AM (#32455844)

          Now google drives a car down the streets and collects your publicly visible information (SSID) and you complain again that they should not be collecting private data?

          Except that Google wasn't just recording SSID data, it was also collecting data that traveled through those access points. Doesn't anybody bother to find out basic facts before commenting anymore?

          • Re:RTFA (Score:4, Insightful)

            by sahonen (680948) on Friday June 04, 2010 @05:59AM (#32456184) Homepage Journal
            How exactly is data which is transmitted to the public airwaves by you any different than an SSID which is transmitted into the public airwaves by a router? If you transmit information unencrypted in an extremely widely known modulation scheme, where exactly is the expectation of privacy in doing so? It's like complaining that someone wrote down something you yelled in the middle of Times Square.
            • by dangitman (862676)

              How exactly is data which is transmitted to the public airwaves by you any different than an SSID which is transmitted into the public airwaves by a router?

              Do you need an education in computing/network technology? The SSID is broadcasted with the intent of clients being able to find and connect to the access point. The data that is transferred over that access point is not intended to be broadcast as a means of finding an access point.

              If you transmit information unencrypted in an extremely widely known modulation scheme, where exactly is the expectation of privacy in doing so?

              There isn't any in most countries, but how doers that make it exactly the same as an SSID?/p

              • by thegarbz (1787294)
                Why does the purpose of the transmission even matter? An SSID sent to announce the location of the access point vs data transmitted over the exact same frequency in an equally unencrypted way would have the same right to privacy. In this case none.

                You could equally put up a billboard in you front yard saying:

                "Hey Neighbour"
                "You owe me $10. Everyone else you shouldn't read this. This is a private message"

                And when the google street car snaps a picture on the way past from a public street recordin
                • by dangitman (862676)

                  Why does the purpose of the transmission even matter?

                  I was responding to the question "how is it any different" with a comment about how it is different. The question of privacy is a different matter.

          • by kellyb9 (954229)
            This was on entirely unencrypted, unprotected networks. It's like opening up the window and shouting your information into the street.
        • How come every ideal on slashdot is applied so haphazardly?

          Because YOU are not ME and we are both slashdot.
          Or in other words slashdot is tens of thousands of individuals all with their own ideas.

      • True. But they opened the first can of worms by collecting it in the first place.

        Am I missing something? They collected samples of data bring brodcast from open wireless access points.
        Are you going to bitch next if Google happens to capture the text on a billboard while mapping I-5? It's information being broadcast in *public*.

    • by _merlin (160982)

      Agree, and that's all the more reason they shouldn't have collected it in the first place. I don't trust Google or the government. The government probably sees this as a bonanza - they know they wouldn't be allowed to collect the data themselves, so it's a bonus that a company did it illegally to cop the rap.

      • by delinear (991444)
        The chances of there being anything even remotely useful in this snapshot of data collected is miniscule. Wasteful as governments are, I'm sure even they can find better uses for their money right now than paying someone to trawl through hundreds of gigs of completely random, meaningless data which have an almost infinitely small chance of providing them with both a) something they can use against an individual and b) some way of identifying that individual.
    • I wonder what exactly is in that data. Because if it's anything good, they'll use it for sure. Remember, the German government is the same one that bought data which was stolen from a Swiss bank, to go after tax evaders with offshore savings accounts... They then sold the stolen data to the Dutch internal revenue service. The Dutch courts (this went all the way to the supreme court IIRC) had no issue whatsoever with this data being used to track down tax evaders.

      Funny, evidence in criminal court need
    • What exactly would the government want with WiFi data?

      It's probably the final stage in their plan to destroy democracy.

    • by ironicsky (569792)

      IMHO I do not think Google did anything "wrong". People, specifically home internet users are stupid and willingly provide open networks to anyone who drives by and connects, a lot of them have file sharing turned on to share stuff between computers which makes the problem worse for the end user because anyone can get their crap...(Little bit off topic)

      But this is hardly Google's fault. Instead, lets blame Linksys, D-link and any other router manufacturer who's WIFI default is no encryption instead of makin

    • Oh no, that evil government is at it again, hurting the butterflies made from love and light that are corporations....

      "What has been created by this half century of massive corporate propaganda is what's called "anti-politics". So that anything that goes wrong, you blame the government. Well okay, there's plenty to blame the government about, but the government is the one institution that people can change... the one institution that you can affect without institutional change. That's exactly why all the an

  • Meta Screwup? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Psaakyrn (838406) on Friday June 04, 2010 @02:09AM (#32455002)

    Ok, so which is the screwup, not giving the data, or the giving up of data?

    • Re:Meta Screwup? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Friday June 04, 2010 @03:15AM (#32455302) Journal
      The big screwup is getting caught at collecting it.
      • by kellyb9 (954229)

        The big screwup is getting caught at collecting it.

        Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought Google admitted to collecting this data without an inquiry from any European countries. Sorry, I didn't read the article, but I recall when this issue was first brought to light.

  • by MindlessAutomata (1282944) on Friday June 04, 2010 @02:12AM (#32455010)

    ...so now people's personal data is now in the hands of the relevant governments. I'm not sure this helps the situation.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by adolf (21054)

      I approach the whole thing with a big "meh."

      The common Slashdot mindsets of "teh Gubament shouldn't have that data!!" and "if they didn't want anyone to see it, folks should've encrypted it!!" are not mutually exclusive.

      Fact is, if the government(s) really wanted to sniff cleartext data broadcast via Wifi, they'd be doing it. In fact, I'd be very surprised if they haven't been sniffing things [wikipedia.org] for a long time.

      So if someone else happens to gather up some cleartext data by accident, and the government(s) dema

      • I agree, but I really do think that Google's data collection was in error, and they're far less likely to use it for blatant evil than the governments would.

        Also, glad to see someone else like Coil.

        • by delinear (991444)

          I can't imagine either of them want to use the data for evil. If Google wanted to* they'd have been a lot more clever about how they collected and hid it from audit scrutiny, and if the government wanted to, as GP said, they'd do it themselves and I doubt, if they were doing so, that they'd bring the issue to everyone's attention by dragging Google over hot coals about it, because I'm betting a fair few people who didn't know about securing their WiFi before will now be looking into it.

          *And really, how coul

    • by Vahokif (1292866)
      Spoiler: they already have your personal data.
  • If the information has the potential to be misused at an uncertain future date wouldn't it better be prudent to just outright delete it?

    Sometimes retaining information is worse than losing it.
  • by powerspike (729889) on Friday June 04, 2010 @02:30AM (#32455094)

    Really i don't see a problem with what google did, apparently it was only open networks etc, having an open wireless device in your house would be like not having curtains on your windows, if your not going to "stop" people from looking in, you've got nothing to complain about. If they were only taking samples, there shouldn't be much of an issue, because you where broadcasting the data to the public anyway...

    • by Ziekheid (1427027)

      If someone leaves the door of his house open you could say it's pretty damn stupid but it doesn't mean walking in and going through someone's stuff is the normal thing to do. Wardriving is something people did (and do?) for the fun of it, it's not major corporations doing it on a massive scale to collect data on people, it's illegal too btw in some countries.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by grantek (979387)

        This isn't walking into someone's house through an open door, it's taking photos from the street, and I have no idea why people thing it's different to Street View - as GP said if there's no curtains on your windows people will be able to see in.

        • by QuantumG (50515) *

          As a European commenter said in the last story on this issue (exactly how many do we need?), they have these weird ideas about privacy over there. Apparently it's not enough that something was visible or broadcast in public. Under the rules Google didn't have the right to collect this stuff.

          Stupid, restrictive, fascist even, but there ya go.

        • by Pastis (145655)

          > This isn't walking into someone's house through
          > an open door, it's taking photos from the street

          Not even that: it's hearing from the street that there were people talking from the house at that particular moment (not necessarily even hearing what they were saying).

          If you don't want them to hear that you are talking and what you are saying, hide your SSID and encrypt your communications. Done.

          The only illegal problem I could see is the large scale of the information gathering. Personally, as an owne

      • by yyxx (1812612) on Friday June 04, 2010 @03:34AM (#32455398)

        Wardriving is something people did (and do?) for the fun of it, it's not major corporations doing it on a massive scale to collect data on people,

        But other corporations have done this as well.

        it's illegal too btw in some countries.

        It shouldn't be. If you broadcast unencrypted packet, people shouldn't be thrown in jail for receiving them.

      • His Analogy works, yours don't.

        Having an open wifi is more like shagging your girlfriend against the window with the curtains open... you can't complain about privacy if the neighbours watch you do her when you do it in plain sight.

        If exhibitionism is NOT your thing... encrypt your damn wifi.

        • Obviously, in this analogy, google is the fat slashdotter across the road who doesn't just ENJOY the show, but videotapes it.

    • This is NOT insightful - and smacks of the "you've got nothing to worry about if you've done nothing wrong" mentality. Mostly Joe Public doesn't understand what the difference is between open/closed WIFI... certainly the guy at the shop he bought it from didn't explain it to him... he bought a device that allowed him to surf the net on from his couch. He plugged it in, followed the illustrated guide to set it up and it worked. end of story.

      He did not knowingly provide unlimited access to his home networ

  • They are handing over the actual hard drives that contain the data apparently. This means that it can (and should) be destroyed by the government now but I suspect that they will research the collected data first to see if Google violated laws by doing this. After this they should officially destroy evidence like this for as far as I know but they probably wont, who knows?
    Anyway, people shouldn't be whining at the government at this point but at google for collecting it in the first place. What the f where

    • RTFA. They wanted to find open access points for people to use when walking around with mobile phones and accidentally captured data as well as AP information.

      • RTFA. They wanted to find open access points for people to use when walking around with mobile phones

        Not quite - you should RTFA too. They want it for geolocation. And they couldn't care less if the AP is open or not - they just record enough info to uniquely identify it and map it's signal strength. They are certainly not planning to advertise the location of these open APs which would be somewhat alarming.

  • by rm999 (775449) on Friday June 04, 2010 @02:40AM (#32455154)

    People kept their networks open, Google gathered some probably useless information about them - presumably no more than 15 seconds worth in most cases (because it's a car driving by). Google has far more information on far more people from saved web searches/e-mails/etc. I'm tired of seeing these stories, I really don't care.

    If European Governments are actually pursuing this, shame on them.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by key.aaron (1422339)

      Google has stated that their equipment changed channels 5 times a second. So there is no more than 0.2s of data on any one network. Good luck doing anything with that...

  • by khchung (462899) on Friday June 04, 2010 @02:43AM (#32455164) Journal

    To all who advocate deleting the data, repeat after me:

    The data is potentially evidence in upcoming court cases.

    Repeat this until it finally occurs to you that destroying evidence when you know it will likely wind up in court is a very bad idea. . Judges usually don't like defendents who destroy incriminating evidence, especially after the authorities already knew of it's existence and has asked for it to be turned over.

    If I sneaked into your home and copied your diary, then put the copy in a safe. Then when the police found this out and asked for me to give the keys to them, the correct response is NOT to burn everything in the safe to "protect your privacy".

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by arkenian (1560563)

      The data is potentially evidence in upcoming court cases.

      Yes, well, whether this is okay or not depends entirely on the court case, doesn't it? I think more than a few /.'ers are concerned that it may indeed be used for court cases, but not necessarily just cases against Google....

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Repeat after me: What the government wants, and what is right, are not synonymous. I would much rather a random thief have my diary, and then destroy it, than for the government to ever lay their filthy paws on it.

      "It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own con

    • by xenocide2 (231786)

      Ironically, the purpose of the law, as I understand it, is to prevent oppressive regimes from recruiting companies to collect information about the citizenry.

    • If I sneaked into your home and copied your diary, then put the copy in a safe. Then when the police found this out and asked for me to give the keys to them, the correct response is NOT to burn everything in the safe to "protect your privacy".

      Obviously not. The correct response is to let the police into the safe. Then lock him in and burn down the house. Then modify the diary to frame you. That's protecting my privacy.

    • by sosume (680416)

      No it isn't. Google is not allowed to sniff out this data (at least, in my country) and is not an investigative authority. Therefore this data is certainly not allowed in court. What if this wasn't Google but China Telecom?

      "Sir, we convict you based on data a foreign company claims to have sniffed from your open wifi connection. Yes we know that we cannot verify its authenticity, and we cannot tell if it has been tampered with, but will convict you nevertheless."

  • Google has been reluctant to hand over this data because it's not clear that governments should have access to this kind of data. If this really represents private data, as the governments contend, the government has no right to access it either, since the contents of the packets are not necessary for determining what Google did.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Yes, it is a nice illustration of the double standard that the government is applying. I would like to now see a class action against the government(s) to sue *them* for breach of privacy. Then they would have to either go to court and argue it wasn't a privacy breach (in doing so admitting that what Google did wasn't that bad) or go to court and admit they are even worse privacy breachers than Google (since Google did it accidentally, while they pursued it intentionally).

  • I assume the German government really just wants the list of open wi-fi networks to accelerate their collection of fines.
    3. Profit!
  • ... has a *COPY* of this data.

    But well, that's the modern world, or something.

  • Saying that google 'secretly collected' wirelessly transmitted data that people were broadcasting is like saying I 'secretly' hear people when they stand in front of me and talk.

  • Getting worse (Score:4, Interesting)

    by space_hippy (625619) on Friday June 04, 2010 @08:31AM (#32456910)

    Still not as bad as the state of New Mexico, where you can be convicted and go to jail for driving "impaired" based solely on the officers "expert" opinion.
    No breathalyzer.
    No blood test.
    You don't even have to fail the field sobriety test. All up to the police officers expert opinion. Some judges are convicting these cases when they should be tossed out.

    The burden of proof is shifting to the defendant, not good in my opinion.

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