Audit Firm Reviews Google's Wireless Data Collection Practices

Lora Bentley

After Google agreed to turn over to regulators the data its Street View cars inadvertently collected from unsecured Wi-Fi networks in several countries, the company also committed to an outside audit of its data collection practices. Stroz Friedberg conducted that audit and released its findings this week, according to


The source code review revealed that Street View cars collect data about wireless networks, including hardware MAC addresses and the network SSIDs, and associate that with data from their GPS units, all using a program called gslite. And though wireless data packets that can contain personal information are also collected in the process, that information is not analyzed. In fact, if the packet is encrypted, everything but the header is discarded. If the packet is not encrypted, the data is written to a disk and stored, the report says, but again, it is not analyzed.


Google representatives were quick to say the report confirms the company's initial explanation - that any collection of wireless data packets containing personal information was inadvertent.


But it's not the actual collection that bothers London-based Privacy International, the story says. Instead, it's that data from unencrypted networks was written to a disk and stored rather than discarded like the data from encrypted ones. In a statement, the group claimed storing the unencrypted data is "equivalent to placing a hard tap and a digital recorder onto a phone wire without consent or authorization."


In related news, Google is asking the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to consolidate the individual civil lawsuits the company is facing as a result of the data collection. The company wants the eight pending lawsuits, as well as any that will be filed, to be combined and then heard by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.


According to Business Week:

Google argues that all complaints make similar allegations and that consolidating pretrial proceedings will be convenient for all parties involved, including the courts.

Consolidation would also ensure consistent rulings in all the cases, the story says.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jun 14, 2010 6:46 AM PowerON Computer Services PowerON Computer Services  says:

While I can't say that I agree or disagree with Google's practices in this matter, it is the wireless network owner's responsibility to secure their own computer network. On any given day I can drive down any street and find around 20% of the wireless networks are left wide open and totally unencrypted. Hopefully this case and the articles being published around the internet will make people more aware of the negative impact of an unsecured wireless network. I hope anyway.


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