Google Staff Knew All Along About the Street View Data Breach

Illustration for article titled Google Staff Knew All Along About the Street View Data Breach

A report issued by the Federal Communications Commission reveals that the Google engineer responsible for collecting private information via wireless networks from Street View cars repeatedly told his colleagues about the controversial nature of what was happening.


The Guardian reports that Google has posted a copy of the FCC's report online in the interests of transparency. It reveals that one of the engineers on the team responsible for the Street View software informed other colleagues—including a senior manager— that it was designed to collect personal information in 2007 and again in 2008.

Back in 2010, it became known that Google had collected masses of data—including emails and text messages—from WiFi networks when its Sreet View cars drove around cities. The practice went on for three years before coming to a halt. About the new report, a spokesman for Google told the Guardian:

"We decided to voluntarily make the entire document available except for the names of individuals. While we disagree with some of the statements made in the document, we agree with the FCC's conclusion that we did not break the law. We hope that we can now put this matter behind us."

All in, Google has gotten away pretty lightly over the whole issue. In the end, the FCC has only fined Google $25,000 over the entire thing, and even that was only for impeding the Federal Communications Commission's investigation. [The Guardian]

Image by AP


While I don't know the particulars of what Google was gathering, I can tell you that it probably wasn't malicious. I spent about two years doing "professional wardriving" for another company which I won't name here. We weren't taking pictures, but we had receivers in the car which captured the wi-fi mac addresses and tied their locations using GPS. The purpose of this was to let your smart phone tell you where you were at using cellphone towers and wi-fi addresses triangulation instead of GPS. That's why your phone's "GPS" works indoors where actual GPS doesn't.

Did we capture passwords or email? Probably, but only if you happened to be typing them in at the moment we were passing by. I liken it to walking through a crowded mall, and hearing bits and pieces of conversation as you go. You might happen to hear something juicy once in awhile, but it isn't like we were bugging you intentionally and for more than a few seconds at a time.

BTW, it makes no difference whether your wi-fi system is protected or not. They can still pick up your mac address, just not the information.