Google Removes WiFi Gear from Street View Cars

Fri, Jul 9, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    Google has removed any equipment used to collect WiFi data in its Street View cars, which have resumed their tours of Sweden, Ireland, Norway and South Africa at the approval of regulators.

    Google July 8 said it has officially removed all hardware and software used to corral WiFi data in its Street View cars, which have resumed their tours of Sweden, Ireland, Norway and South Africa.

    Google grounded its entire fleet of Street View cars—which collect real-life footage of city streets in countries all over the world—in May when it discovered the vehicles had grabbed 600 gigabytes of e-mail and other data fragments from unsecured wireless networks.

    The data storage, which began in 2007, stemmed from rogue code a Google programmer placed on the company’s servers.

    This so-called WiSpy incident angered data privacy officials in some 33 countries. Germany and Hong Kong demanded to see the hard drives and the data collected on them. Others such as Ireland asked that Google simply delete the collected data.

    Google, which ceased grabbing WiFi data entirely, moved to meet both requests. The company also hired independent security expert Stroz Friedberg, which just approved a protocol to ensure any WiFi software is removed from the cars before they start driving again.

    Moreover, Google said it will let loose its Street View cars again in Ireland, Norway, South Africa and Sweden next week after speaking to those countries’ regulators.

    The Street View cars will continue to collect photos and 3D imagery, which the company claims helps improve the information it presents to consumers on Google Maps.

    “We recognize that serious mistakes were made in the collection of WiFi payload data, and we have worked to quickly rectify them,” wrote Brian McClendon, vice president of engineering for Google Geo, in a blog post.

    “However we also believe that Street View is a great product for users, whether people want to find a hotel, check out a potential new home or find a restaurant.”

    The privacy snafu has erupted into an international issue, with Connecticut State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal vowing June 21 to lead a multistate investigation into Google’s accidental collection of data from unsecure wireless networks.

    Meanwhile, Consumer Watchdog said July 8 that Google’s WiSpy snooping could have sucked up and recorded communications from members of Congress.

    The consumer advocacy group said Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., chair of the Intelligence Subcommittee of the Homeland Security Committee, has at least one wireless network in her Washington, D.C., home that could have been breached by Google.

    The group is asking Harman and 18 other members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee for “immediate hearings” because their homes are pictured on Street View, which suggests their WiFi networks were scanned. The group wants Google CEO Eric Schmidt to testify under oath.

    “This is the most massive example of wire tapping in American history, and even members of Congress do not appear to be immune,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog.

    “Whether it’s compromising government secrets or our personal financial information, Google’s unprecedented WiSpying threatens the security of the American people, and Congress owes Americans action.”

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