Consumer Group Says Google May Have Tapped State Secrets

Thu, Jul 8, 2010 at 10:26 am

    Carmen Balber – Consumer Watchdog

    You know how your smart phone helps you find the nearest coffee joint? The Google technology that locates restaurants also collects information sent via unsecured Wi-Fi connections – and might have grabbed up data from a local member of Congress.

    While Google was driving around, collecting images for its street level maps, it was also collecting information from unsecured Wi-Fi connections. If you were paying bills online or sending an e-mail when that Google car drove by, that information was sucked up by the software.

    But who still uses unsecured Wi-Fi networks? Carmen Balber with Consumer Watchdog says, “apparently a lot of people.”

    Like members of Congress. Balber says Google could have scooped up national secrets from their home computers.

    To find out, Consumer Watchdog picked five members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and drove around their D.C. homes. Using software downloaded from the Internet, they determined one of the five – Democrat Jane Harman of El Segundo – was using two unsecured networks.

    Balber says it’s not hard to encrypt a Wi-Fi network. “And frankly,” she says, “I’m fairly surprised that there are members of Congress that don’t use encrypted networks.”

    Harman, who chairs an intelligence subcommittee, had no comment. In a company statement, Google said it was a “mistake” to include code in their software to collect the data.

    Consumer Watchdog wants the Energy and Commerce Committee to call Google executives on the carpet to explain what information they have and what they plan to do with it. The Committee has exchanged letters with Google, but hasn’t come to any conclusions about whether a Congressional hearing is necessary.

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