The Professor's Notes

Where my thoughts and your eyes (and now ears!) collide

Google Sees what you are doing… And turns you in!

Posted by Steve Brady On May - 16 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

My first thought when reading the headline “Google Maps cars pull some user data” was “*YAWN.* Another story about ‘do no evil’ Google being caught accidently being evil.”

It at first seemed a rehash of the old story.  As Google’s street mapping cars drive by the apparently record your WIFI address and map it to the GEOLOC (GPS) coordinates to enhance navigation. 1  But then the story got, well.. interesting.

It turns out that they’ve also been collecting and storing data from those unsecured hotspots.  Anything that was being transmitted during the time those cars were driving by may have been picked up by Google’s software and stored.2

So, as if to prove to people that they should be encrypting their wifi networks, the Google car has been capturing the actual DATA being transmitted.  Now keep in mind, this isn’t just the data that is being sent out over the internet. Oh, no.  This is everything you are doing over your wifi network.

Saving homework to a network drive?

GOT IT.

Moving pictures or music from one computer to another?

GOT IT.

Updating your business’ financial spreadsheets on the network drive?

GOT IT.

But we shouldn’t worry, because Google doesn’t want to do evil, and so they are doing everything they need to do.  They will make adjustments to their software to stop “eavesdropping” on your digital “in home” conversations.  And then, at the end of the article, they tell us this:

Google says it will work with local authorities to show what information was collected and make sure it is disposed of properly.

Yup–have no fear.  Whatever information they have “accidentally” collected will be given to the local authorities to dispose of “properly.”

Honestly, I am more concerned about my financials getting handed around than I am anything else, but does this strike anyone else as… well…. odd?  And remember, you don’t have to be doing something “illegal” to have information that could be embarrassing or personally destructive if  released.  3   4

Usually the local authorities need a warrant to tap into your phone and data lines.  They certainly need a warrant before they can go into your homes. (Just ask Jason Chen) but what happens if someone “just happens to give them information?”  Can that information be used?  I mean, it essentially has the same weight as “we received a tip from a citizen that…”

Should we be worried?  What are your thoughts?  Big Brother, or a “Tempest in a Teapot?” 5

  1. Let’s set aside for a moment the temporal nature of this, if you move, change routers, or any number of other things that could alter that. I suppose most people don’t move every two or three years.
  2.  Note, that these are unsecured hotspots.  We can only assume, for now, that WEP and WPA/WPA2 encrypted data remained secure.
  3. For instance, The family of Senator Ted Kennedy are being given an opportunity to actually withhold information from his extensive FBI file, in part to protect his privacy and the privacy of his families.
  4.  Imagine if you will that they turn the information over to the “local authorities” such as the Sheriff. And imagine that the Sheriff is an elected position, and realizes that he has some legal, yet compromising, information on his opponent in the upcoming election. Hmmm.
  5.  That said, all the great literature to reference here seem to come from Great Britain. Coincidence?

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