Der Spiegel reports the German commissioner for data protection says Google is gathering inappropriate information about Wi-Fi networks: The commissioner may have a technical misunderstanding of what's going on here, which would be a shame. Google records Wi-Fi network information when it's driving around cities to gather data for maps and street views. Networks are scanned passively, in the same way in which any device equipped with Wi-Fi looks for available networks.
Google, like Skyhook Wireless and a few other firms, combine the publicly broadcast information with GPS location stamps, and then can use Wi-Fi as either the only or a component of providing a position to laptop and mobile users. Skyhook's data has been used by Apple since 2008, and is widely used by other firms.
For networks in which beaconing is enabled to broadcast a network name, Google grabs the security method, BSSID (erroneously referred as a MAC address, which is quite similar in nature), and network name. All of this is ostensibly public information. If you don't want this information public, however identifying it may be about you, you can disable the beacon (set the network to closed), limit broadcast power, or not use Wi-Fi.
Google pointed out to Der Spiegel that it's been gathering such information for years, quite openly, along with firms like Skyhook Wireless, as well as the Frauenhofer Project, a German company that gathers data for the same purpose.
The commissioner is claiming that Google is capturing and storing information that identify a person. I hardly think so.