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Google Privacy Your Rights Online

Google Grabbed Locations of Phones, PCs 230 230

1800maxim writes "As it turns out, Google didn't only grab the hotspot SSIDs and MAC addresses with its Street View cars. As this article at CNET notes, Google also recorded location data of computers using wireless cards, as well as cell phones and other Wi-Fi devices. Google's explanation is that the data collection was accidental, and they declined to answer further questions from CNET."
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Google Grabbed Locations of Phones, PCs

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @05:30AM (#36892470)

    Google's business is built on having data about people. Google drives around and collects even more data about people from personal WiFi hotspots, PC WiFi cards, and phones. Only the truly naive can possibly believe this is accidental. The whole "big clumsy cuddly bear stumbling around doing silly things" excuse is getting very old, Google. Stop playing us for stupid.

  • Re:Outrage (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ArAgost (853804) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @05:38AM (#36892502) Homepage
    Actually it's not similar, it's way worse. Apple cached information about the user location on the user's terminal, for performance purposes (although it wasn't stored in the safest way possible). Google grabbed this info from the street, without asking permission, and used that information for business purpose (and not a very fair one, see the Skyhook vs. Google lawsuit). Plus, the notion that a company can collect data “accidentally” is laughable, especially considering the process in which it was acquired.
  • by Cyberllama (113628) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @05:40AM (#36892504)

    We've already heard the method they were using for capturing MAC addresses and how sloppy it was. We already knew they were collecting random packets, then truncating them to include the MAC Address and a small portion of the payload and then saving them. We know some of those payloads include packets sent by people GASP on their phones or laptops, therefore it stands to reason some of the MAC addresses must also be from those phones and laptops. We knew this months and months and months ago, but apparently CNET didn't make the connection so easily.

    It's like we just keep rehashing the same old story over and over and over because nobody understood it the first time, and someone comes and puts a new spin on old data and suddenly it lives again. The thing is, you can change a registry key and change your MAC address. There's no big table of data somewhere that connects your MAC address to specific person. It's not even remotely the same as an IP address. Oh sure, you can say "Hey the MAC address of this device on my network matches the one on my network yesterday" but not "Hey, that's my neighbors MAC address" unless you've got some sort of access to the device in question.

    So Google may know that a certain device was one place and also another place, but that's about the extent of the correlations they can really make with this data. Again, just as before, there's no reason to assume malice when sloppy coding is much more logical explanation. Google has nothing to gain and much to lose (PR-wise) by doing something like this on purpose, and a very reasonable and believable explanation was offered. Conspiracy theorists can continue to beat this dead horse if they like, but I'm an Occam's razor fan.

  • Isn't it obvious? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ThunderBird89 (1293256) <<zalanmeggyesi> <at> <yahoo.com>> on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @05:42AM (#36892522)

    Why is this new? The StreetView cards were set to promiscuous mode, since they sniffed data packets not intended for them. It stands to reason they recorded responses from the end devices too, not just the AP->device traffic.

  • Re:Outrage (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Cyberllama (113628) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @06:02AM (#36892608)

    Apple's issues were fairly similar to be honest, in both instances it was bad coding/poor-judgment by engineers creating bad privacy practices that were, in both cases, largely overblown in the media. Google, to its credit, at least had the decency to step up and say "Yeah, our mistake. We're sorry." while Steve Jobs COMPLETELY DENIED that the iPhone tracked users. In my book, that makes him a big liar. Apple's weasely response, no doubt, would be that if the data doesn't get uploaded to them its not really "tracking". But, practically speaking, that argument doesn't hold any water since the record is created, sometimes (but not always) finds it way to Apple, and its existence creates a liability for its users even if it isn't in Apple's hands. Neither company was being malicious or trying to invade their user's privacy, but at least Google showed a lot more forthrightness and honesty while Apple tried to hide the issue.

  • by pedantic bore (740196) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @07:13AM (#36892950)

    They sure seem to be collecting a lot of data by accident...

    My friends at Google swear up and down that every line of code in the Google codebase is reviewed several times before it is signed off and released for any purpose. Some would have caught this; it's obvious from the data what is happening. So, either my friends are liars, or Google is. I trust my friends more.

  • by epine (68316) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @07:51AM (#36893132)

    They just vacuumed up as much data as they could snarf w/o worrying about whether it was legal or not, because that's the way they roll, and now they are paying the price. Maybe they'll be a bit more careful in the future.

    Many data analysts adhere to the motto, capture first, prune later. It's not like the data costs them a lot of money sitting there waiting for script to happen.

    And BTW, the future is already here. The sloppy code in question probably dates back to 2006 if the data collection began in 2007. Internal policies could have changed three times over since then.

    And a big round of -1 for all the people out there running unsecured Wi-Fi for the convenience of having no drapes.

  • by joh (27088) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @08:57AM (#36893690)

    They sure seem to be collecting a lot of data by accident...

    My friends at Google swear up and down that every line of code in the Google codebase is reviewed several times before it is signed off and released for any purpose. Some would have caught this; it's obvious from the data what is happening. So, either my friends are liars, or Google is. I trust my friends more.

    I'm sure they do this reviewing and testing for production code running on their servers. But for tools that will never run anywhere near the net and which are basically one-off affairs to gather data? I bet "seems to work so far" is all that's needed then.

With all the fancy scientists in the world, why can't they just once build a nuclear balm?

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