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Google Tells Congress It Disclosed Wi-Fi Sniffing

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the thought-you-were-listening dept.

Google 123

theodp writes "While conceding 'it is clear there should have been greater transparency about the collection of this [Wi-Fi] data,' Google asserted 'we have provided public descriptions of our location-based services' in its written response to Congress (PDF) about whether the public had been adequately informed of its data collection efforts. To prove its point, Google's how-many-times-do-we-have-to-tell-you answer included a link to a blog entry on My Location on the desktop, an odd choice considering that Google is still less-than-clear about exactly what's being captured by the service ('When My Location is active, Toolbar will automatically send local network information (including, but not limited to, visible WiFi access points)'). Congress might also want to evaluate the transparency of this cute Google video, which assured the public of Street View's privacy safeguards, but gave no hint of the controversial Wi-Fi collection."

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I am here (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32553338)

I am here

Re:I am here (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32553462)

I also am here...

Re:I am here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32555894)

I am not here.

THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32553402)

This is good for all concerned!!!

Re:THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM (2, Insightful)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553712)

No, it's not good for all concerned.

Here in Australia, Google officials are trying to claim that they didn't know the data was being collected because it was being collected accidentally. Over there they're claiming "we knew, and we told you we were doing it."

Well, which is it?

Re:THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32553916)

No, it's not good for all concerned.

Here in Australia, Google officials are trying to claim that they didn't know the data was being collected because it was being collected accidentally. Over there they're claiming "we knew, and we told you we were doing it."

Well, which is it?

No, they're claiming that they didn't know it was being collected while it was collected, but when asked to investigate after the fact, they did, found that they had accidentally collected the information, and reported the fact.

Re:THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM (0)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 4 years ago | (#32554314)

They knew it was not legal to play man in the middle with other peoples networks.
The term network is often very broadly defined around the world after many cases of data intrusion walked away due to old/gov only or postal/audio recording era laws.
Google knew it should not keep packets. They understood they where "covered" for location, MAC, photography.
Someone signed off on the data collection code. They then kept the data.
If they can claim it was a mistake, legal precedent would be set and privacy, data retention and network intrusion laws become very flexible again.
Googles legal teams knew this from day one. When exposed they stonewalled and now have just the right spin for every jurisdiction.

Even if it was a mistake, it's still illegal (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#32554650)

"It was a mistake" doesn't wash. Google claims to be technologically sophisticated. Maybe they should have googled for "wireless data sniffing law".

Not everyone uses google location services. I don't, but I have two wireless routers, and they've been on my street. They can't argue that they have my consent - by law, each act of collecting information requires separate, informed consent. So even people who use gmail (I don't) cant be considered to have given google any sort of "blanket consent".

Re:THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM (2, Informative)

edjs (1043612) | more than 4 years ago | (#32555262)

They knew it was not legal to play man in the middle with other peoples networks.

Passively capturing packets is not a Man-in-the-middle attack [wikipedia.org] .

Re:THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 4 years ago | (#32555326)

play man in the middle vs passive wiretapping?
You think your using the web or yahoo ect at a wifi spot and form a connection.
The packets are saved by a third party?

Re:THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32555578)

Yeah, except that's NOT MITM!!!!

MitM is connecting to both endpoints, and representing oneself to each endpoint as the other. (You see, it's cleverly named because the attacker is _in_the_middle_.) It's useful for two cases: to modify the data in transit, or to snoop data from an encrypted channel with poor key distribution (the encryption makes capturing traffic useless, but you can tell them "O HAI THIS IZ THE NOO KEE KTHX", and get them talking straight to you).

Both of which, quite aside from the issue that YOU'RE ESTABLISHING A CONNECTION (a key point in any sane infosec laws, and it didn't happen in Google's case), are rather more harmful than snooping data that they didn't care enough to encrypt on ANY layer, don't you think? Which makes your MitM claim not just incorrect, but defamatory.

Re:THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 4 years ago | (#32556438)

didn't care enough to encrypt on ANY layer does not save you from been protected under networking laws.
No third party can just collect and save your data.

Both (1)

Per Abrahamsen (1397) | more than 4 years ago | (#32555458)

Location and strength of wi-fi spots was collected deliberately and openly, content of data passed through wi-fi was collected by accident.

And? (1, Insightful)

Dragoniz3r (992309) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553420)

A major corporation fibs to the government about their shady acts? Say it isn't so! We all knew this was going to be how it went down from the time the Wi-fi sniffing was first announced. There's no surprise here. There really isn't much more to say about it. We've covered the shadiness of the whole thing at length in other stories, and it's really barely news at all that Google is trying to snow Congress about it...

Re:And^2 (4, Insightful)

poptones (653660) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553598)

This is not "shady." I operate an open wifi hub myself and I live in town. One neighbor is almost always connected via his iphone. What neighbor? I haven't a clue - that's the whole point of providing anonymous and free bandwidth to my community. I hope that person is using it to save money on their phone bill cuz, as a homeowner, the better off my neighbor is the better off I am.

People are not idiots. When it is called "wifi" and "wireless" and you can network comupters without wires, anyone who understands technology of the last century knows it's using radio. They may choose to remain ignorant to the details, but it's simple common sense that when I am using "radio" others can hear shit I say unless I do something about it. The government and the media powerhouses have done their part in making the public scared enough of this technology that most now attempt to lock them down using wep, again demonstrating that most have a basic understanding of the technology.

Making shit public and then bitching about someone for using the information YOU CHOSE TO MAKE PUBLIC is a synthetic dismissal of responsibility (or...ummmm.. just a lie). The only thing Google is guilty of here is having enough money and resources to gather this data on a larger scale than I and my neighbor are capable of.

Re:And^2 (1)

Dragoniz3r (992309) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553658)

Fine, their "allegedly shady" acts. My point still stands. Nobody expected them to walk up to Congress and say "yeah, we totally grabbed all this wifi data that people didn't know we were taking." I'm not even making any statements about the morality or legality of Google's actions. I'm just saying, the content of TFS is in no way surprising.

FWIW, I metamodded you up, so don't take this in any way personally.

Re:And^2 (1)

yyxx (1812612) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553818)

Fine, their "allegedly shady" acts.

Google recorded unencrypted WiFi packets and took pictures on public streets. There is nothing "shady" about that, allegedly or otherwise. They shouldn't have to ask permission to do that, nor should they have to answer to anybody for it.

I'm not even making any statements about the morality or legality of Google's actions.

Well, but I am: what they did was certainly moral, and it was probably legal in the US.

Google does plenty of things that are of concern from a privacy point of view; this is not one of them. Anybody concerned with civil liberties and democracy should firmly defend Google's right to do what they did.

Re:And^2 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32553922)

Apparently you do not understand what allegedly means.

Re:And^2 (0, Offtopic)

d'baba (1134261) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553948)

It doesn't matter what technology or method is being used. If you find my front door unlocked and go inside and snoop around you are wrong and a trespasser.

Re:And^2 (1)

poptones (653660) | more than 4 years ago | (#32554006)

Except Google didnt walk in any doors - they drove down the street. If you want to leave your front door open, don't bitch when someone drives by and sees you sitting on the crapper.

Re:And^2 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32554022)

Google did not find anyone's front door unlocked and snoop around inside. Mod parent offtopic.

Re:And^2 (1)

((hristopher _-*-_-* (956823) | more than 4 years ago | (#32555022)

They never went inside, you just put all your stuff out on the street and they wrote it down.

Re:And^2 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32555390)

d'27baba,

That is a totally wrong analogy, to make your analogy work you have to put up a giant sign that lists everything you have, visible to anyone within a couple hundred feet or so and then be surprised and insulted when passers by read it.

It's called RADIO WAVES, they LEAVE your house and are there for ANYONE to see, if you want privacy encryption is a 5 minute exercise.
There is not excuse for ignorance, and less so for willful ignorance.

Re:And^2 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32554036)

This is one of the best posts I've ever read on Slashdot.

Re:And^2 (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32554262)

People are not idiots.

You sure about that?

Re:And^2 (1)

outsider007 (115534) | more than 4 years ago | (#32554892)

The difference is that we trust Google. They promised us not to be evil. They control the flow of our information. We have a certain expectation that they will not use our personal information for some nefarious purpose. And when they do they should (in my opinion) be held accountable for it.

Re:And^2 (1)

2078 (729888) | more than 4 years ago | (#32555236)

The difference is that we trust Google.

Rookie mistake.

Re:And^2 (1)

macshit (157376) | more than 4 years ago | (#32555294)

The difference is that we trust Google. They promised us not to be evil. They control the flow of our information. We have a certain expectation that they will not use our personal information for some nefarious purpose. And when they do they should (in my opinion) be held accountable for it.

Er, but this was neither evil nor was it "using personal information for some nefarious purpose."

Regardless of whether they actually did anything wrong, of course, it's clear that enough people didn't like it that the most sensible course of action for them is to stop doing it (and be more careful in the future), if for no other reason than good PR.

[Indeed, the reaction -- whiny histrionics and political grandstanding -- is arguably more evil, as many of those people are actually abusing the system for personal gain.]

Re:And^2 (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 4 years ago | (#32555410)

Oh, come on. Grow up, alright?

Hey, I happen to LIKE Google. I pretty much trust them, too. Or, at least, I find them to be more trustworthy than any of the competition. But, where does Google make their money? That's right - ADVERTISING. How does that work again? Lemme think real hard - first, Google tracks my web browsing, and my searches, and they analyze all the data they can get on me. Then, based on their "profile" of me, they try to sell me things that are simply irre-fucking-sistable. They serve up advertisemenst that are calculated to be appealing to me. Like putting honey or sugar out to attract ants.

Google is using your data to make money, just as surely as any other individual, group, or entity on the web is trying to do the same.

Just don't tell Google that I never see the ads they serve up, alright? They just might come up with some "agreement", similar to Microsoft's EULA. "By using any or all of our services, you agree that we can track everything you do online, and you promise to disable any ad blockers, or other software that might prevent us serving advertisements."

Google is not your neighbor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32555100)

You wrote: "as a homeowner, the better off my neighbor is the better off I am" and then drew a false equivalence between google and your neighbor. Google is not your neighbor and Google being better off may very well mean you're worse off. "The only thing Google is guilty of here is having enough money and resources to gather this data on a larger scale than I and my neighbor are capable of" is another false equivalence. You doing something, or your neighbor doing something, is not the same as some megacorporation doing it in a million places simultaneously. Did you notice that your neighbor got home rather late last night, because you saw her car pulling into her driveway at 11 pm? No problem. Does that make it ok for Google to install cameras on every street and create a massive database of when everyone gets home? I don't think so.

Re:And^2 (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 4 years ago | (#32555394)

There are legitimate reasons to lock down your wifi, of course. It isn't just media hype and government fear mongering. Personally, I run TWO wifis. One is completely unsecured, and available to anyone who happens by. The other is secured, and only responds to select MAC addresses. Thus, like yourself, I do a little bit of that "share the wealth" thing, but, I also ensure that only a pretty sophisticated haxor is going to grab my packets. The average script kiddie isn't going to get my stuff!

bullshit (0)

yyxx (1812612) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553806)

A major corporation fibs to the government about their shady acts?

There is nothing "shady" about what Google did, nor have they "fibbed" about it. In fact, Google shouldn't even be asked about this.

What is shady is the way governments have been using this for political gain.

Particularly shady has been the behavior of the German government, who not only has been lying through their teeth about what happened, but also is using Google as an excuse to undermine basic data protection principles.

But, hey, it's not like German governments ever did anything bad with private data, right?

What's The Issue? (1)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553950)

A major corporation fibs to the government about their shady acts?

I'm sorry, I miss it.

What is shady about collecting publicly available Wi-Fi signals? Anyone with an antenna can do it. Did you know there is a way you can prevent this? My own fucking GRANDMA knows how.

Re:What's The Issue? (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 4 years ago | (#32554334)

re "Did you know there is a way you can prevent this?"
By not recording and keeping the data as in moves on networks that are not yours?

Re:What's The Issue? (1)

DamnStupidElf (649844) | more than 4 years ago | (#32555168)

The public airwaves are just as much mine as they are yours. The fact that ancient computer trespass laws and bumbling politicians can't keep up with modern technology shouldn't be surprising.

Re:What's The Issue? (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 4 years ago | (#32555306)

ancient computer trespass laws keep you safe from spam, CC fraud, identity theft, spoofing and many other interesting ideas.
Most where based on the ideas of letter and voice privacy or a result of hacking attempts.
The public airwaves are open to all to form networks on, but not for wholesale harvesting of data in transit by any .com with a van.
Why should "modern technology" be a fog of war like cover for simple data interception and mining?

Re:What's The Issue? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32555414)

You think that LAWS actually DO that?

You sir are a fool and worse yet a willful fool as a regular fool can see the spam in his inbox, the rampant credit card fraud and "identity theft" (actually verification failures) that goes on daily.

SO, in your little "mind" is it equally illegal to record the talk from a talk radio station?
It is EXACTLY equivalent to recording the unencrypted data stream from the router you were too lazy to setup security on.

Re:What's The Issue? (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 4 years ago | (#32556496)

When caught, most people find they face a long list of changes.
On a radio station the caller knows the stream is been recoded and that they are using a public broadcasting medium.
This is more the equivalent to recording the data stream from a wifi router. You can photograph its location, ask for its MAC but to save the data flow and keep it might need some legal clarification.

They're not evil... (1)

msauve (701917) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553430)

just incompetent.

Re:They're not evil... (3, Insightful)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553448)

Their mode of operation has been to collect all the raw data they could and pass it to the smart guys in the back room to develop applications.

The problem is that this time they did it driving (and cycling) down peoples streets and occasionally in their driveways. From their perspective its a simple misunderstanding and I expect a truce will be agreed on.

1st Amendment (1, Offtopic)

catmistake (814204) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553472)

Google is sort of a news provider now. Why don't they just hide Street View behind the 1st Amendment?

Re:1st Amendment (1)

oddTodd123 (1806894) | more than 4 years ago | (#32554214)

Great idea. Then let's see them defend their news search from lawsuits claiming they are re-publishing copyrighted material without permission.

Re:1st Amendment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32555714)

What is this first amendment rubbish you speak of? Didn't you know that the American constitution is a "product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today" [slashdot.org] ?

For example, the second amendment is a bit weird - these bear arms, do you want to hang them from plaques on the wall, or perhaps have your own arms surgically replaced?

Either way, that's just fucked up man.

Yet Another Google WiFi Collection Patent Filing (1, Flamebait)

theodp (442580) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553506)

There's another, as-yet unpublished Google patent filing [google.com] that discusses the use of a 'mobile device data collection module' to 'collect data on a set of mobile devices which are using [a] wireless base station', including GPS location information, time information, and 'application specific data, such as, map requests, etc.' The listed 'inventors' include a Google Latitude Product Manager.

Re:Yet Another Google WiFi Collection Patent Filin (1)

Zebedeu (739988) | more than 4 years ago | (#32555694)

There's another, as-yet unpublished Google patent filing [google.com] that discusses the use of a 'mobile device data collection module' to 'collect data on a set of mobile devices which are using [a] wireless base station', including GPS location information, time information, and 'application specific data, such as, map requests, etc.'

Well, the fact that they have the patent, does not mean they intended to use it.

They may have just figured that it would make the patent more complete if they included the part about "application specific data", so that someone else couldn't come after and patent the same thing with that addition.

The listed 'inventors' include a Google Latitude Product Manager.

You mean a location service-related patent is coming from the guys working with location services at Google?

Yeah, that's strange...

The details are clear (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32553508)

The article says Google has been "less than clear", but that just for people who don't understand the technology. Exactly what data Google collects, and how they use it, is obvious for anybody who understands the technology. A good explanation of that technology is here:
http://erratasec.blogspot.com/2010/05/technical-details-of-street-view-wifi.html [blogspot.com]

This is just another example of people being scared of "witchcraft". In this case, so many people (even Slashdot readers) don't understand WiFi technology, so the witchhunt is more persistent.

Re:The details are clear (5, Informative)

LordLimecat (1103839) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553536)

Its better than that, I followed the very first link provided by the poster, then clicked on the link from the third paragraph....

To obtain your location, Google Maps takes advantage of the W3C Geolocation API [w3.org]

That article explains EXACTLY what it does and what information is gathered. And it appears (though I might be wrong) that WiFi data is used to discern location, but not always necessarily passed to a site using My Location. It also looks like the Geolocation spec ISNT authored by google, but by the W3C. But of course its not quite as fun to call "witchcraft" on the W3C, now is it?

You know, I keep holding out hope that people on slashdot will tend to read the articles they post before posting it, but maybe Im just being naieve.

W3C=Google Here? (0, Flamebait)

theodp (442580) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553606)

Since the W3C spec editor is a Google employee (see below), calling "witchcraft" on the W3C is essentially the same as calling "witchcraft" on Google, no? :-)

Geolocation API Specification
W3C Working Draft 07 July 2009
This Version:
http://www.w3.org/TR/2009/WD-geolocation-API-20090707/ [w3.org]
Latest Published Version:
http://www.w3.org/TR/geolocation-API/ [w3.org]
Latest Editor's Draft:
http://dev.w3.org/geo/api/spec-source.html [w3.org]
Previous version:
http://www.w3.org/TR/2008/WD-geolocation-API-20081222/ [w3.org]
Editor:
Andrei Popescu, Google, Inc

Re:W3C=Google Here? (3, Interesting)

yyxx (1812612) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553802)

No, because writing the spec doesn't affect anybody's privacy, implementing it does. The fact that Apple and others are implementing the spec tells you that there is broad agreement that this is useful.

Besides, this is nothing new: applications, phone companies, and governments have been able to determine your location from your cell phone for years now. The fact that Google does it too now, and that it becomes accessible to web applications, doesn't make the situation significantly different.

Re:The details are clear (1)

causality (777677) | more than 4 years ago | (#32554510)

The article says Google has been "less than clear", but that just for people who don't understand the technology. Exactly what data Google collects, and how they use it, is obvious for anybody who understands the technology. A good explanation of that technology is here: http://erratasec.blogspot.com/2010/05/technical-details-of-street-view-wifi.html [blogspot.com]

This is just another example of people being scared of "witchcraft". In this case, so many people (even Slashdot readers) don't understand WiFi technology, so the witchhunt is more persistent.

The real issue here is not that the data is easy to collect, or that collecting it is part of how the technology works. This is really a matter of data retention.

Clearly they retain this data long enough to later perform analysis on it. To say "it's public information that you are broadcasting" misses the point and wastes time affirming a fact that is not in question (which is in fact is a clear sign that the point has been missed).

It's the difference between me someone down a public street and happening to see that you entered a particular store that you frequent, versus someone holding a pen and a notepad so you can see that he recorded your location with timestamps. The first event is not noteworthy in any way. The second event might make you question whether his intentions are in your interests. To be fair, it is rather hard to come up with scenarios where you would benefit from someone who does not personally know you but feels a need to record your comings and goings. Again it's the recording and retention that is the problem; no claim is being made that there is anything wrong with being observed in a public place by someone who is also in a public place.

By recording physical data over time concerning a person's whereabouts, especially with a device they tend to carry around and use frequently (like a Wi-Fi-enabled phone, netbook, or laptop), you can learn quite a bit about someone. If there is a Gmail account used or a browser cookie transferred over that Wi-Fi signal, Google can cross-reference their physical whereabouts with all the other information they've gathered. This could include things like their real name and identity especially if they have used Google Checkout or Google Product Search, their browsing history as provided by tracking tools, their e-mail data if they use Gmail, their search history, the news items that interest them, etc.

Combining all the other data Google gathers with recent or current data on physical location amounts to a powerful collection. The abuse potential is great. That abuse may not even have to come from Google itself as an intentional act. A database like that for many thousands of people is a tempting target for spammers and criminals, for the same reasons they sometimes manage to steal credit card numbers and Social Security numbers. Can you name a government that wouldn't like easy access to that kind of surveillance information, perhaps in the name of fighting terrorism, or did you think their ambitions stopped with projects like Carnivore, warrantless wiretaps, and mandatory access to telecommunications infrastructure?

The disclosures about "we gather data on Wi-Fi signals" or "we record search terms and IP addresses" don't even begin to address the power of cross-referencing multiple databases. Therefore it's not really full disclosure at all. The average person doesn't remotely understand what can be learned about them from multiple sets of data and this reductionist approach to disclosure isn't helping. Each data set seems like a minor thing and a fair price to pay for using a free service. It's the whole picture from the combination of all of those data sets, something easily achievable with modern databases, that poses the real privacy issue. None of the privacy policies and press releases have anything to say about that. Isn't that a bit strange?

I get the impression that Google managed to be a profitable company prior to gathering Wi-Fi location data. I think they'd manage to scrape by, somehow, if they chose not to do this or if more people chose not to use this service. Weigh the risks above for many people with the sole gain of a little extra income for Google alone and it seems clear to me that the risks strongly outweigh the gains.

Poking the Bear (1)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553516)

Google's how-many-times-do-we-have-to-tell-you answer...

Most savvy corporations know the phrase "Do not taunt Happy Fun Congress!".

Of all the things in the world to be angry about.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32553518)

Really, people. Does Congress really not have anything more important happening? Than fighting off a big evil corporation committing such hideous acts of betrayal? I'm not defending Google. I would gladly move to a magical land where companies treat people decently. Yes, I think that we should do what we can to make this planet better. I just don't see the reward for Congress to even bother with this.

Monetizing data (0, Flamebait)

cdrguru (88047) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553550)

Look, either Google gets to do its thing or it will take the search engine away and THEN where will we be? Huh?

So Google figures out that it doesn't need to pay Skyhook for WiFi information anymore if it has its own database - and building its own database is fairly simple from the Google Street View vans. This saves them money, allows them to do better advertising and charge advertisers more. What possibly would there be to complain about, anyway?

It's not that you were actually using this information for something, now was it? So what do you care if someone else makes money off it? Or at least saves money. Besides, it isn't like Skyhook didn't do exactly the same thing to build their database - or didn't you think of that?

One of the rules of the Internet seems to be that whoever is the most daring and audacious gets the prize. If you can figure out how to make money off something - no matter how incredibly invasive or annoying it might be - then the first one to do it wins. You mean you didn't think it was worth taking pictures through people's windows all over the world? Well, see - Google did it and won, you lost. The idea that you might not want everyone all over the planet to have access to a photo of your front door and whatever you have in your windows isn't really relevant to the discussion. You gave your permission when you didn't shoot the tires out on the van as a trespasser. And today, there are no neighborhoods that would decide to "take action" - nobody knows their neighbors well enough to join them in doing anything.

Re:Monetizing data (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553684)

They are entirely unapologetic about capturing SSIDs and such (the subtext being that they can use it to build a location service).

They are sad that they stored a few unencrypted packets of captured data, as they had no idea of the shitstorm they were in for (I sort of doubt they spent a significant amount of time connected to each router, so really they probably only found out about 1 kinky fetish of someone near each open router, not all of the kinky fetishes. Or something.).

People already driving around collecting wifi info (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32553596)

It's naive to think that only Google can collect your wifi info. People are probably doing so in your town already. Check out sites like this one [wigle.net] . My ESSID appears listed there in each of the places I've rented over the last 4 years or so.

Is that a problem? I don't think so. Secure your network if you're concerned about it.

Re:People already driving around collecting wifi i (1)

Zixaphir (845917) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553644)

Re:People already driving around collecting wifi i (1)

Zixaphir (845917) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553654)

disregard that, wrong parent.

Confusing title at first! (1)

antdude (79039) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553674)

"Google Tells Congress It Disclosed Wi-Fi Sniffing" (original)

versus/vs.

"Google Tells Congress Its Disclosed Wi-Fi Sniffing" (read it as this)

One question, though... (2, Insightful)

Todd Knarr (15451) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553698)

I have one question, though: exactly how much privacy do people expect, given that what Google collected was what those people were broadcasting in the clear to the world at large? It's the equivalent of Google listening to what people are saying sitting at the corner coffee shop. Face it, when you're talking in public with strangers standing right next to you listening, you don't expect what you say to go unheard. So, why do you expect what you're broadcasting with the moral equivalent of a bullhorn to remain private? You want it private? Either don't broadcast it at all or at least encrypt it before broadcasting it.

Oh, you say the average person doesn't know better? Sorry, they should know better, and if they don't they should know better than to try without getting expert help. No excuses. This isn't rocket science. We've had personal computers for over 30 years. We carry sophisticated ones in our pockets and use them to make phone calls. It's well past high time the average person was expected to have a basic understanding of what they're so casually carrying around and using every day, and past time we stopped making excuses for the ones who just can't be bothered. You shouldn't need to know the details of how encryption works in 802.11*, but you should at least know as much as "I need encryption turned on, and if I don't know where and how to turn it on I need to either RTFM or ask someone who does know for help.".

More important than asking why Google collected this information is asking why people were so negligently reckless as to broadcast anything sensitive in the clear in the first place.

Re:One question, though... (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553780)

The more refined question is whether it is worth distinguishing between incidental interception of such signals while doing other activities and the intentional systematic sampling of such information.

Personally, I'm not that worried about it (WPA makes it fairly easy to at least advertise that you desire privacy), but I see why people have some concerns.

Re:One question, though... (1)

Todd Knarr (15451) | more than 4 years ago | (#32555756)

I don't even bother asking that question. I assume that if I'm broadcasting it, someone will be listening to it and that someone will be who I least want listening in. That may or may not be the case, but by the time I know for sure it'll be too late so I'd better assume the worst from the start. I can see why people have concerns, but it simply boggles me that those people are, quite bluntly, blabbing their deepest darkest secrets in front of an audience of hundreds and are then suprised when hundreds of people know their deepest darkest secrets. I know it happens, I simply cannot wrap my head around the concept of someone so utterly oblivious.

Re:One question, though... (1)

outsider007 (115534) | more than 4 years ago | (#32555004)

Google listening to your coffee shop conversation is just the beginning. Soon she'll start going through your wallet when you're not around. You still won't get upset though because -you know- it's just Google. And it's not like you were hiding anything anyway. By the time you realize she was reading your email the whole time you were together you'll be too old to find another search engine.

Re:One question, though... (1)

Todd Knarr (15451) | more than 4 years ago | (#32555742)

Nope. I know Google would like to riffle through my e-mail. That's why, while I have a Google Mail account, I don't use it for sensitive things like banking that I don't want going into Google's database. When I'm deciding what e-mail address to give people, I ask myself what's going to be going across it and choose one with an appropriate level of protection.

Re:One question, though... (1)

2078 (729888) | more than 4 years ago | (#32555298)

It's the equivalent of Google listening to what people are saying sitting at the corner coffee shop. Face it, when you're talking in public with strangers standing right next to you listening, you don't expect what you say to go unheard.

No, it's the equivalent of Google planting microphones hooked up to recorders in every cafe, other public places, outside my house and then claiming, this is a common area, any conversations here can be heard by anyone who's close-by, so what's wrong in recording them?

Re:One question, though... (1)

mickwd (196449) | more than 4 years ago | (#32555530)

those people were broadcasting in the clear to the world at large

Nobody thinks their wifi is broadcasting to the world at large. They realise they are broadcasting to neighbours and people nearby, but that's about the extent of it. It's the fact that a multi-billion-dollar company is recording that data and taking it away for analysis that some people have a problem with.

It's like standing outside the front door of your house. You expect your neighbours to be able to see you, and this isn't a problem. But if a multi-billion-dollar company was recording that information (taking a photograph) and then compiling a huge directory of photos of everybody who lives in every house in the developed world, people might have a different opinion of this.

Re:One question, though... (1)

Todd Knarr (15451) | more than 4 years ago | (#32555736)

What restriction is there on who can park on the street in front of your house? None. Anybody can do it. So while yes there's a physical radius, you have no idea who's within that radius and you know it. That one of those somebodies is from Google and they've got a tape recorder running is one of those things that everybody ought to be expecting. After all, first rule: if it's embarrassing or sensitive or otherwise might be a problem if someone found it out, and you're saying it in the middle of a crowd of strangers, you'd better assume one of them will be taking notes (because one of them will be and you'll find out about it at the least opportune moment). Ditto for standing outside the front door of your house. If you're naked except for a pink tutu and you're counting on nobody but your neighbors (who understand you were just the butt of a practical joke and accidentally latched the door chasing the pranksters out of your house) seeing you, the photographers from the local scandal rag will be cruising by and will catch you on film and it will show up in the local paper with a suitably scathing blurb. If you're really unlucky, it'll be both the photogs and the local cops.

Re:One question, though... (1)

mickwd (196449) | more than 4 years ago | (#32556272)

What restriction is there on who can park on the street in front of your house? None. Anybody can do it. So while yes there's a physical radius, you have no idea who's within that radius and you know it. That one of those somebodies is from Google and they've got a tape recorder running is one of those things that everybody ought to be expecting.

Expecting? Really? And you really don't think anybody could conceivably be concerned about this?

Re:One question, though... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32556500)

Yeah, they could be concerned about it -- but then they wouldn't be running an unencrypted AP for their private data, or standing on their front stoop in a tutu, would they?

Sorry, but around here restricting the existing rights of others, whether corporations or individuals,* for your own convenience is going to be a tough sell, and since you're the one arguing for a change, you're going to have to sell it. Expressing shock at our cowboy expectations of freedom (for others as well as ourselves) isn't doing it.

* Since corporations are not natural people, but artificial constructs of law granted many of the rights of people, it's quite conceivable that they should not have such a right -- but in my understanding, your argument is about scale, not legal nature, and would equally apply to a person with the requisite finances undertaking the same street-snooping project, so I'm not discussing the corporation issue.

Re:One question, though... (1)

DMiax (915735) | more than 4 years ago | (#32556222)

They were not broadcasting, they were sending to a specific device with a specific address. They just happened not to encrypt it. It is fairly reasonable that they expected any other party to drop the packets.

Curse you Google for being successful... (3, Informative)

ritzer (934174) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553752)

Finally, Google managed what we tried to get going with http://www.nodedb.com/index.php [nodedb.com] ... ten years later.

The mainstream press (1)

Trufagus (1803250) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553758)

One thing that is both interesting and sad about this whole episode is how it is reported in the mainstream press.

Even the New York Times reported that they were getting people bank account numbers.

And try reading some of the user comments for those articles. People are convinced that the Google vans are stealing their thoughts.

Unfortunately, I think it is time for Google to spend less time giving away technology and more time on P.R. and advertising.

Re:The mainstream press (1)

Shados (741919) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553792)

Its a university Google needs to invest in if people think sniffing broadcasted unencrypted networks is a big deal (especially since even then a lot of things will be encrypted anyhow.

get over it already (1, Insightful)

yyxx (1812612) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553794)

I'm tired of Google being painted as the bad guys here. All they did was receive unencrypted, public broadcasts. That should not be illegal. In fact, it probably is not illegal in the US.

If you don't want people to listen to your WiFi packets, encrypt them. Don't abuse the court system or the police to cover up for your own incompetence.

Re:get over it already (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 4 years ago | (#32554378)

Public broadcasts would be streaming to a web page for all to see?
This was people sitting in city, suburbia, connected to a webpage, email, yahoo and having their packets collected without their understanding or approval.
They still have the legal protection of networking laws in some parts of the world, no encryption needed, expensive hardware ect.
Just like a telco site, military server or any encrypted networking.

Re:get over it already (1)

yyxx (1812612) | more than 4 years ago | (#32555624)

Public broadcasts would be streaming to a web page for all to see?

Which part of "public" and "broadcast" do you not understand?

This was people sitting in city, suburbia, connected to a webpage, email, yahoo and having their packets collected without their understanding or approval.

Yes, it was.

Just like a telco site, military server or any encrypted networking.

No, not "just like" at all. Those kinds of servers and networking don't broadcast; you need to actually intrude into them using active measures: tapping into a line, transmitting data at them, etc.

They still have the legal protection of networking laws in some parts of the world, no encryption needed, expensive hardware ect.

Yes, some countries give them "legal protection"; those laws are bad laws. Passive reception of the electromagnetic spectrum from a public location should not be illegal.

There is also nothing "expensive" about the hardware; every standards-compliant piece of WiFi hardware has encryption built in.

What exactly do you think those laws accomplish? They don't make anybody any safer.

Re:get over it already (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 4 years ago | (#32556546)

What exactly do you think those laws accomplish?
Your caught with data thats not yours in bulk form.
In theory, that adds to the list of changes when caught.
It also brings voice recording and postal privacy laws into the digital age.
You did not have permission from the gov or any of the parties to collect and save it.
If you want legal reform like some parts of the EU for open wifi, great, go for it.

Common test to see if you have disclosed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32553832)

1. Are people gobsmacked when they hear about it?
2. If yes, you have not disclosed.
3. If no, you have disclosed or it didn't matter.
And gobsmacked means 'surprised' for you americuns :P

WiGLE (4, Informative)

Rijnzael (1294596) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553874)

I really hope no one tells Congress about WiGLE [wigle.net] .

Re:WiGLE (1)

adolf (21054) | more than 4 years ago | (#32554626)

Mmmm, WiGLE. I try to gather at least 100 new nodes a day for that beast, in the hope that some one, some day, will make use of all that data.

WTF! (2, Informative)

NetNed (955141) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553888)

It's a broadcast signal for crying out loud!! What really is the big deal? It's broadcast for the whole world to see! If a person drives down my street and has their laptop looking for WiFi they will see mine and 20+ others on my street, most secured. So what is the big deal? Sounds like the congress has found a thin opportunity to stick it's nose in to google's business and is taking full advantage of doing so, even if they are over stepping their boundaries and trying to obtain info that they did little leg work on. Info that they have very little to no legitimate reasons to have or need.

Re:WTF! (3, Informative)

Rijnzael (1294596) | more than 4 years ago | (#32555048)

Don't really know why someone modded you flamebait; you're completely right. It's like investigating someone for overhearing a conversation in public and remembering what the parties to the conversation said later on.

To be fair (1)

Tsunamio (465339) | more than 4 years ago | (#32553900)

Congress might also want to evaluate the transparency of this cute Google video, which assured the public of Street View's privacy safeguards, but gave no hint of the controversial WiFi collection.

That wouldn't be very reassuring.

need a big sign (2, Interesting)

oddTodd123 (1806894) | more than 4 years ago | (#32554292)

If they had a big sign on their street view vans that said "All your data are belong to us", that would be good enough for everyone currently complaining? I doubt it. So why would it be good enough if they post something anywhere on their websites that says the same thing? It's not like people are agreeing to some terms-of-service with Google when they buy their house!

Re:need a big sign (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32554606)

Here in the us we have a TOS, and it is made up of the state, local, and federal laws, as moderated by the respective constitutions. Generally, the TOS states that publicly viewable acts are not subject to privacy from other law abiding citizens. Encrypt your shit if you want it private.

What if this is RIAA? (1)

khchung (462899) | more than 4 years ago | (#32554396)

Let's do a thought experiment. What if, instead of Google, it were RIAA doing this?

So, consider what if RIAA has been sending out trucks all around US, silently capture any and all wifi data they can receive, and recording them linked with GPS location, for the past 3 years. You have no idea what RIAA intend to do with all these data.

Would you still consider this ok?

Alternately, would you be worried if RIAA suddenly comes up with boatloads of money and bought out Google? Now they have all the data Google had, are you still fine with that?

Try replacing RIAA with any of your favorite organization, such as Microsoft, Apple, SCO, etc. Will your opinion change?

Re:What if this is RIAA? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32555070)

Yeah, I'm OK with that. My network is encrypted. My content is my creation, and if they break the encryption to see what that content is (circumventing my DRM), they'll be violating the DMCA. It's about time one of them got a taste of that.

Re:What if this is RIAA? (1)

Enokcc (1500439) | more than 4 years ago | (#32555300)

"Try replacing RIAA with any of your favorite organization, such as Microsoft, Apple, SCO, etc. Will your opinion change?"

It is often characteristic to my favorite company that I share their ambition, and trust their intentions based on my previous experience and my best judgement. Thus, it does matter to me which company carries out an action, and my opinion would certainly change.

This whole thing, seems to be building up... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32554494)

...to an excuse take over google, like they seem to be doing with just about everything else these days.... for your own protection of course :-)

Why does /. Keep posting these bad summaries? (2, Insightful)

Cyberllama (113628) | more than 4 years ago | (#32554590)

So Theodp continues his one-man crusade against Google, and Slashdot inexplicably continues to aid him by posting his troll article summaries. This is at least his 3rd one on this particular Google issue alone and there haven't even new developments.

Let's review:

WHEN YOU USE GOOGLE LOCATION SERVICES, THEY KNOW WHERE YOU ARE. Shocking!:
http://tech.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=10/06/01/1217220 [slashdot.org]

This one's summary is so ridiculously inaccurate and biased I can't do it justice by summarizing it myself:
http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=10/05/29/0818219 [slashdot.org]

The germans wanted to do something, but failed. Lets argue about Google some more:
http://tech.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=10/06/04/1839230 [slashdot.org]

Here's some other Google posts he's made that are only slightly less ridiculous:

Google is hacking your box:
http://tech.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=10/06/11/0143255 [slashdot.org]

Google Lied about Apps being a successful product:
http://tech.slashdot.org/story/09/09/07/1218227/Google-Apps-Not-the-DC-Success-Many-Believe?from=rss [slashdot.org]

Google is racist:
http://search.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=09/11/26/0311249 [slashdot.org]

Ok, man, we get it. You think Google is evil and you wear a tinfoil hat to keep them from packet sniffing your brain because they can *totally* do that. Whatever. The rest of us are sick of hearing about it. Most of us here understand the issue better than you apparently do and we aren't nearly as concerned.

It's clear you have a bone to pick, especially with the whole wifi thing which I'm not sure you really understand -- but FFS, why is Slashdot still posting these things? I swear this is the 4th time you've rehashed the whole wifi thing with a slightly different spin and managed to get it posted yet again. Each time you avoid facts in favor of frantic hand-waving and put words in Google's mouth like "how-many-times-do-we-have-to-tell-you" and "After mistakenly saying that it did not collect Wi-Fi payload data". Please, for the love of god. Just stop.

Huh...I predict a boom in the following SSIDs (1)

ibsteve2u (1184603) | more than 4 years ago | (#32554708)

  • HushGoogleIsListening
  • StopGooglinMyAss
  • GoogleSniffsToiletSeatsToo

Is this yet another no brainer (1)

mnemonicj (1818968) | more than 4 years ago | (#32554816)

You have to wonder what the problem is? I think public register of all macid's would be useful.

Not encrypting doesn't mean I want you to read it (1)

moria (829831) | more than 4 years ago | (#32554942)

There can be other possibilities. For example, some devices may not support encrypted Wi-Fi. Or I have a friend visiting and I would not want to share the password with him and decide to temporarily disable encryption. Or maybe I am sure my neighbors are far enough away from me. Or maybe I am technically incapable of getting encryption to work properly. Not enabling encryption does not mean I want you to sniff my data, even small pieces of it. Making something possible to be accessed by public is not the same as making something public. Would you be happy if a company systematically analyze all your postcards and get to know address of your friends? If I have backyard with very high concrete walls, I might walk naked in my backyard. People can still sneak with the help of a ladder. It's not only possible but also easy, but common sense tells us it's unlikely someone would spend the time and money doing that. But you sure won't be comfortable if a company builds a lot of 30-ft robots and lets them walk around your neighborhood with cameras around their head. Sure the robot will only stay a few seconds around your house, and you might not happen to be naked when it comes. But would you be OK with that? I am also wondering what would happen when WEP is trivial to break. If Google were to integrate the WEP-cracking code into its streetview cars to make it more powerful, would people think that is OK? Would people assume that everybody in the world including every grandma online should be aware of weakness of WEP and be capable enough to upgrade all devices to use something less sniffable? I am not saying Google is wrong in this case. I am saying sniffing Wi-Fi data in general is wrong, no matter if it is on open or encrypted network. Google chose to remove face pictures of people around strip club. By the same logic, they should also not have collected Wi-Fi data even it is publicly accessible.

Re:Not encrypting doesn't mean I want you to read (1)

rdebath (884132) | more than 4 years ago | (#32555196)

I'm pretty sure you're mis-reading the privacy levels here.

The way I read this is that your 30 foot wall is like WEP, it's a positive indication of the expectation of privacy. In both cases breaking the privacy is a definite indication of trespassing and is likely to be grounds for prosecution. But neither stops a determined invader.

A normal white picket fence is much lower security or privacy; it's something that someone who's even a little bit fit can just jump over but in general they don't, because they're not that impolite, and they don't want any handy agricultural implements to be waved at them.

If there's no fence at all you would be very surprised to be confronted for just walking there.

That last one is the totally open WiFi point; quite simply if no effort has been made to fence something off it's unreasonable to expect it to be considered private property so connecting is so obvious the computer will do it without prompting. I would say the picket fence is about the same level as MAC filtering or turning off the DHCP, easy to hop over but rarely done.

All these rules are the ancient ones that were first invented when people started living in villages rather than just a single family group and there's even a comparison for Google. They might not like the label, but in this time of the Global village they're the Village Gossip. She (usually) will know where everyone is she will be able to tell you happy details about everyone in village so that you feel you know them, even if you haven't exchanged more than two words in the last 6 months. In a real way she knits the village together.

So the question is would you do something you don't want the Village Gossip to see in you front garden? She's not always there; but it sure feels like it sometimes. If she did see something would you want her to do any more than forget what she saw.

It's this what Google have already done?

Google vs Cheney-Bush (2, Interesting)

tengu1sd (797240) | more than 4 years ago | (#32555046)

People are getting upset that someone recorded wireless transmissions? Come on, it's radio, once you broadcast it's there for the whole world to pick up. Encryption can slow down someone reading your traffic, but that's only a speed bump. There is no expectation of privacy on a radio broadcast, if you think your wi-fi network is secure, you're only showing the world that you don't understand the technology.

Compare this to the Bush/Cheney Regime [wikipedia.org] program to record network and phone traffic. Where's the outrage and investigation of King George? The current king has quietly continued this program. I have more trust in Google than I do the the United States government.

One more time, if you broadcast it, it's available for anyone to intercept.

Re:Google vs Cheney-Bush (1)

penguinman1337 (1792086) | more than 4 years ago | (#32555356)

I have more trust in Google than I do the the United States government.

And this right here is the problem. When a for profit corporation engenders more trust than our supposedly representative government. Anyone else see a problem with this?

Re:Google vs Cheney-Bush (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32555510)

Lemme see here...

  • Google can see some of my private data (what I knowingly give them (web/images/video/maps searches, my gmail account), what sites I visit give them (google ads/analytics tracking), and now 10 seconds of wireless traffic (if I weren't using encryption, anyway)) and while they probably will only use this to target advertising (that's their main business, remember) at me, they could conceivably, given their wide role in commerce these days, use it to cause me serious economic harm.
  • The government has much of the same info, and an extremely broad grant of authority to lawfully use varying degrees of force (almost never lethal, though, unless I'm actively resisting), and they continually use the threat of that force to push me into compliance with various laws, with serious economic and physical consequences. Additionally (if we consider worst-case vs. typical with Google, let's consider it here) they can send men to my home with automatic weapons to kick the door down and kill me, and nobody anywhere in the chain of command need face any legal repercussions, because they were "officers of the law", and I was (retroactively, if need be) a criminal or terrorist trying to fight them. At worst, it was a tragic, but unavoidable, mistake where my telephone looked like a gun due to poor lighting and my "aggressive manner". [Insert sob story about how tough our boys have it making hundreds of these tough calls everyday, knowing that their life is on the line, etc.]

Yeah, not sure I'd say I "trust" Google more, but I'd say the government has a lot more need to be actively mistrusted and kept on a tight leash.

thanks for share (-1, Offtopic)

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Easy solution (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 4 years ago | (#32556394)

1 - Restate 'we did notify' that they were going to capture data available to any passing car
2 - Admit perhaps it wasn't the best notification process out there
3 - Apologize for #2 "we will do better next time"
4 - Move on and keep the 'google trucks' moving

Free Wifi and Interwebs! (1)

Deliveranc3 (629997) | more than 4 years ago | (#32556672)

How are we going to enforce net Neutrality?

When the telecoms control the lines and have repeated that no filtering is going on (a blatant lie).

I think having a company that roams about checking network speeds and ensuring that all types of data receive fair treatment is going to be necessary if we ever hope to enforce network neutrality on the telecos.

It would be nice if the government could do it, but Google releasing a report would be just as good.

There are many other benefits to having an accurate map of open wireless networks.

We are already trusting Google to maintain anonymous usage statistics in areas where privacy is a concern.

I think the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, though I also think governments should police Google's privacy policies.
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