Watchdog Blasts Google Over Data Collection Mistake

Mon, May 17, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    A consumer advocacy group says Google’s recent admission that it is collecting more data from WiFi networks than it previously disclosed highlights the need for federal regulators to more closely examine what data the Internet firm is collecting.

    Consumer Watchdog once again raised its concerns about Google’s data privacy practices after the firm acknowledged Friday in a blog post that it discovered the discrepancy during an audit of the WiFi data its “Street View” cars collect for use in location-based services such as Google Maps. The audit was requested by a German data protection official.

    Despite a claim made in a blog post last month, the firm has been “mistakenly collecting samples of payload data” from open, or unsecured, WiFi networks, Google Senior Vice President of Engineering and Research Alan Eustace said in Friday’s post. He added, however, that none of the data was used in a Google product.

    “So how did this happen? Quite simply, it was a mistake,” Eustace said. “In 2006, an engineer working on an experimental WiFi project wrote a piece of code that sampled all categories of publicly broadcast WiFi data.”

    He said Google plans to delete the data as soon as possible and is consulting with data privacy officials in the countries affected on how best to dispose of the data. In addition, it has stopped Street View cars from collecting WiFi data and has called for a third-party review of the software at issue.

    “Once again Google has demonstrated a lack of concern for privacy,” Consumer Watchdog Consumer Advocate John M. Simpson said in a statement. “Its computer engineers run amok, push the envelope and gather whatever data they can until their fingers are caught in the cookie jar. Then a Google executive apologizes, mouthing bafflegab about how privacy matters to the company.”

    He said the incident underscores the need for federal regulators to examine not just Google but all online firms’ data collection practices. He also specifically urged the Justice Department and FCC to examine the Google WiFi incident.

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