26 January, 2011 § 1 Comment
You may have used Google Street View before. Street View is a service that allows you to walk around cities as if you were standing right there in the street.
Did you hear about Google “accidentally” collecting personal information from wireless networks? In May, 2010, Google made public that their street view cars had accidentally collected data from wireless networks. Spain and Canada have been threatening fines, and now Google has this to say:
Google still intends to offer location-based services, but does not intend to resume collection of WiFi data through its Street View cars. Collection is discontinued and Google has no plans to resume it.
That’s a very interesting quote considering the Reuters article had said that this was mistake. The quote makes the WiFi data collection sound intentional, however they will continue their “location-based services”.
These location-based services allow websites to provide special targeted advertisements or targeted content based on where you are located. A couple years ago this meant that they would use your computers IP address to see what city you were located in.
Now with Google’s location-service, they can get within 30 feet of your actual location.
When the street view cars were driving around your neighborhood, they weren’t just taking pictures. They were also collecting wireless SSID and signal strength data. Using triangulation, they can now determine exactly where you are sitting.
If you are connected to the internet with a wired connection the accuracy will be low, but on wireless it is stunning.
Moral of the story: Things aren’t always what they seem at first. While all the world’s data may be great when you’re working on a research paper, it can also be frightening for privacy.