Google says it's inadvertently been recording packets from unsecured Wi-Fi networks while sniffing for publicly available information: Remember how Google said its scans of Wi-Fi networks while carrying out Street View photography were innocuous? Remember how I defended the practice, and said nothing in what Google was doing was different or more personally invasive than Skyhook Wireless or others? Oops.
Google now reveals that it's discovered code written in 2006 as the basis of its Wi-Fi scanning system in Street View contains a portion that samples data on networks that aren't secured, presumably as a tool for statistical analysis of what people are doing. That's a no-no in 2006 and today, and may result in fines and consent agreements.
Google might have caused themselves lasting harm. I can believe this was unintentional; the company is, frankly, sloppy about managing its projects. The firm said it has 600 GB of such data, mostly fragmentary as the Street View vehicles are in constant motion. Given the petabytes of Street View imagery, that's also plausible that it didn't notice the 600 GB of other data collected over years.
Street View was taken off the road briefly, and the company has said it won't be scanning for Wi-Fi temporarily as it assesses what's happened. I wouldn't be surprised if the firm is pressured into agreeing to not gather Wi-Fi info at all in the future by various countries, or possibly worldwide. That's good news for Skyhook Wireless, as it would be the only worldwide purveyor of such information.
I don't feel too foolish about my previous posts, because I was discussing the publicly available information that Wi-Fi networks announce from access points. The privacy concerns raised have to do with how such information could be associated with private information (Google searches, email, and other elements). I have to say that Google's accident makes that kind of association far more reasonable to raise, intentional or not.
Update: The German privacy commissioner has responded angrily.