Google Wi-Fi Incident Under More Scrutiny

Wed, Jun 2, 2010 at 10:25 am

    Canada’s privacy commissioner has launched an investigation into Google’s disclosure that it mistakenly collected data from unsecured home Wi-Fi networks.

    “We are very concerned about the privacy implications stemming from Google’s confirmation that it had been capturing Wi-Fi data in neighborhoods across Canada and around the world over the past several years,” Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said in a statement Tuesday.

    Google acknowledged last month that vehicles that photograph pictures for the company’s Street View service and also tracked the location of Wi-Fi networks mistakenly collected data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Several members of Congress have called on the FTC to investigate the matter, while EU officials also have voiced concern over the incident.

    Stoddard said that her office will be examining whether the incident violated Canada’s private sector privacy law, known as the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. She has urged Google to retain the Wi-Fi data it collected in Canada.

    “We have a number of questions about how this collection could have happened and about the impact on people’s privacy,” she said.

    Google has said it collected the information by mistake and has pledged to cooperate with all the relevant authorities.

    Meanwhile, a public interest group that has been critical of many of Google’s activities, including its privacy policies, released a report Wednesday that claims Google has used its search engine dominance to drive traffic to its other services.

    Consumer Watchdog said it obtained three years of Internet traffic from the Web metrics firm Experian Hitwise to analyze Web traffic to Google’s other services. It claims that it shows Google’s search results favor its services over competitors, a claim Google has repeatedly denied.

    Consumer Watchdog said the data showed for example among the “biggest losers from Google’s adoption of Universal Search is MapQuest.” The study notes that MapQuest has been hampered by the fact that Google’s search engine puts Google Maps at the top of the results when a user puts in an address into Google’s search engine. The study argues that as a result of this, MapQuest’s market share has dropped from 57 percent in July 2007 to 32 percent now.

    The study points to other examples such as a near doubling in market share for Google’s YouTube video site, but fails to provide evidence showing how Google’s search results were responsible for the rise in these sites’ market share and excludes other factors such as the possibility that users might prefer these Google sites over others.

    “Our goal is to give users the info they’re seeking as quickly as possible. Sometimes that means showing a map, a streaming audio link, or an answer to a question at the top of the page if we think that’s what users want,” a Google spokesman said. “We strive to deliver what we think is the most relevant result from a variety of content types, and if we’re not giving users the information they want then other sources of information are always one click away.”

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