Google's Street View collected locations of millions of WiFi devices

Google's method of obtaining info for its Street View feature in Google Maps has also had a fairly scary side effect. According to a story at CNet's News.com, the cars that are used by Google to take pictures of and obtain info for the feature have also taken the locations of millions of WiFi enabled devices. That includes laptops, smartphones, tablets and others.

Officially, Google's cars that it uses for its Street View feature are only supposed to note the locations of WiFi based hot spots and routers. However, the article states that the cars have also picked up the location of other WiFi enabled products as well. Indeed, until a few weeks ago, Google actually made that info available publicly on its web site. The article also says that the French government has already fined Google 100,000 Euros for obtaining the unique IDs of WiFi enabled devices via Street View cars. So far, Google has yet to comment on News.com's article. The company also doesn't have a way for your WiFi enabled device to not be included in its Street View cars' sweep of unique hardware IDs.

This newly revealed situation is similar to one that Apple found itself in a few months ago when it was revealed that the company was able to track and store the location of the users of its iPhone. Apple later released a software update that disabled that feature, but the damage was done as lawmakers have since tried to make phone makers and wireless carriers more accountable about how info from their devices is used.

Report a problem with article
Previous Story

Chinese city orders closure of two fake Apple stores

Next Story

Dual-screen software tools showdown: 3 of the best compared

30 Comments

Commenting is disabled on this article.

it's not the SSIDS that are being collected (only), but also the MAC addresses according to the article. but then again, the articles fail at giving the detailed explanation

Why is it when it comes to google its always the users fault? They should not download malware to their android phones, now they should not broadcast their SSID. Shouldnt the question be why is google going around the world harvesting people's data without their permission?

It serves you right. If you're broadcasting your own SSID, you only have yourself to blame. Google has absolutely nothing to concern itself with.

You can opt out by disabling your SSID broadcast. Quit complaining.
Why is this worse than having a picture of your house put onto the internet for the whole world to see?

alexalex said,
Microsoft collects the same data for its Bing street maps.
Yeah but you see it's evil because the name of the company that doing it doesn't begin with the letters M - I - C - R - O - S - O - F - T.

MS Lose32 said,
Yeah but you see it's evil because the name of the company that doing it doesn't begin with the letters M - I - C - R - O - S - O - F - T.

Macy's
Ikea
Carter's
Rite Aid
Office Depot
Staples
Office Max
Fry's
Toys R Us

What do these businesses have anything to do with this article?

Shouldn't the story really be about how much information your devices are leaking? What does it matter that Google's collecting it, the point is that ANYONE is capable of collecting it and that's what people should be concerned about. The "opt-out" that the article mentions should be on the devices, not courtesy of anyone willing to collect that data.

Kushan said,
Shouldn't the story really be about how much information your devices are leaking? What does it matter that Google's collecting it, the point is that ANYONE is capable of collecting it and that's what people should be concerned about. The "opt-out" that the article mentions should be on the devices, not courtesy of anyone willing to collect that data.

Exactly, people are making it available, why have a go at Google for collecting it? You don't want it recorded? then hide it.

Kushan said,
Shouldn't the story really be about how much information your devices are leaking? What does it matter that Google's collecting it, the point is that ANYONE is capable of collecting it and that's what people should be concerned about. The "opt-out" that the article mentions should be on the devices, not courtesy of anyone willing to collect that data.
A big corporation is scrutinized the highest because they are more powerful financially and politically. And, no, all of this data collection should be Opt-in. Take your Opt-out crap and go home.

How can they even tell the difference?

And one would think that the articles would actually try to provide some technical explanation of this. But when you read something like "MAC addresses aren't generally transmitted over the internet", you get supiscious. "Generally?" try never.

no-sweat said,
Someone explain to me why I should care.

Maybe read the article again, again, and again until it makes sense? It's unethical.

j2006 said,

Maybe read the article again, again, and again until it makes sense? It's unethical.

How is it unethical? If you leave something out in the middle of the street for me to see, why does it suddenly become a problem if I see it?

Consumer ignorance does not equate unethical business practices.

greenwizard88 said,

How is it unethical? If you leave something out in the middle of the street for me to see, why does it suddenly become a problem if I see it?

Consumer ignorance does not equate unethical business practices.

That's the difference though, they aren't just "seeing" it, they are "recording" it. That's the unethical part. It's like when you go into buildings/buses/etc with video survillence, they put stickers on the doors outside saying by entering you are agreeing to be recorded. Google however is doing the opposite, going TO places and recording people's info (including privatley owned streets) without notifying people in anyway, infact they should be requesting consent before doing that.

no-sweat said,
Someone explain to me why I should care.

http://news.cnet.com/8301-3192...f-phones-pcs/?tag=cnetRiver


The cars were supposed to collect the locations of Wi-Fi access points. But Google also recorded the street addresses and unique identifiers of computers and other devices using those wireless networks and then made the data publicly available through Google.com until a few weeks ago.

http://news.cnet.com/8301-3192...pping-can-track-your-phone/


Android phones with location services enabled regularly beam the unique hardware IDs of nearby Wi-Fi devices back to Google, a similar practice followed by Microsoft, Apple, and Skyhook Wireless as part of each company's effort to map the street addresses of access points and routers around the globe. That benefits users by helping their mobile devices determine locations faster than they could with GPS alone.
A wireless MAC address from a coffeeshop in San Francisco's Mission district was also spotted here. (Click for full-sized image. http://i.i.com.com/cnwk.1d/i/tim/2011/06/14/mac_5.png)

Only Google and Skyhook Wireless, however, make their location databases linking hardware IDs to street addresses publicly available on the Internet, which raises novel privacy concerns when the IDs they're tracking are mobile. If someone knows your hardware ID, he may be able to find a physical address that the companies associate with you--even if you never intended it to become public.

Here's how it works: Wi-Fi-enabled devices, including PCs, iPhones, iPads, and Android phones, transmit a unique hardware identifier, called a MAC address, to anyone within a radius of approximately 100 to 200 feet. If someone captures or already knows that unique address, Google and Skyhook's services can reveal a previous location where that device was located, a practice that can reveal personal information including home or work addresses or even the addresses of restaurants frequented.

A Google spokesman would not answer whether Android phones or Street View cars have collected the MAC addresses of phones or computers not acting as Wi-Fi access points--a practice that, if true, would pose a greater privacy risk. Skyhook Wireless CEO Ted Morgan says that his company only collects access point addresses. Doty says that his computer may have been used as an access point for testing, but "I certainly didn't do so commonly."

How many people knew that their devices are calling home? None.
How many people know what Google does with it? None other than who are in the "Google Circle".

Again... another reason why I'll never join anything Google-related. We can protect ourselves all we want, but I will never support a company that does that kind of sh*t. People are stupid for jumping on the Google+ bandwagon... who knows what non-concentual info they collect from you on that site.

j2006 said,
Again... another reason why I'll never join anything Google-related. We can protect ourselves all we want, but I will never support a company that does that kind of sh*t. People are stupid for jumping on the Google+ bandwagon... who knows what non-concentual info they collect from you on that site.

seriously if you don't know wich info they collected don't say anything...
the only thing that Google Collected is SSID of wifi that is broadcasting in this case some people must be broadcasting ad-hoc with their laptop or their printer.
The only reason to collect these is to get better results of position with your smartphone.

most maps software use third party company to do this I'm sure bing does the same thing....

And I can also share a secret with you they have also your home address that's scary don't you think...

j2006 said,
Again... another reason why I'll never join anything Google-related. We can protect ourselves all we want, but I will never support a company that does that kind of sh*t. People are stupid for jumping on the Google+ bandwagon... who knows what non-concentual info they collect from you on that site.

Just like Nestle said, stop trying to spread fear. Google collected this to augment the GPS system in smartphones. If you do not have your GPS turned on, google maps/navigation uses SSID's combined with known GPS coordinates of those wifi networks to try and guess your position. THAT IS ALL THEY ARE USING IT FOR. nobody cares about your wireless network, nobody cares about trying to leech your granny porn, that IS ALL.

everything else is FUD.

Edited by SirEvan, Jul 25 2011, 3:09pm :

j2006 said,
Again... another reason why I'll never join anything Google-related. We can protect ourselves all we want, but I will never support a company that does that kind of sh*t. People are stupid for jumping on the Google+ bandwagon... who knows what non-concentual info they collect from you on that site.

It's true. I hear people all the time tell me how much they love Google and their products because "they're free and it's not Microsoft." The reality is that Google's products are not free. The difference is that with Apple and Microsoft, you pay for their products with money. With Google, you pay for their products with privacy. You can always make more money, but try getting your privacy back once you've given it away to Google.

xpxp2002 said,

It's true. I hear people all the time tell me how much they love Google and their products because "they're free and it's not Microsoft." The reality is that Google's products are not free. The difference is that with Apple and Microsoft, you pay for their products with money. With Google, you pay for their products with privacy. You can always make more money, but try getting your privacy back once you've given it away to Google.

At least someone gets it... it's funny how the other trolls call someone ignorant when it's the truth.

NesTle said,

seriously if you don't know wich info they collected don't say anything...
the only thing that Google Collected is SSID of wifi that is broadcasting in this case some people must be broadcasting ad-hoc with their laptop or their printer.
The only reason to collect these is to get better results of position with your smartphone.

most maps software use third party company to do this I'm sure bing does the same thing....

And I can also share a secret with you they have also your home address that's scary don't you think...


Another one of you who misses the point. The SSIDs and Hardware IDs are broadcasted for users to share Wireless connections *with consent*. Nobody has explicitly permitted Google to collect that information for location tracking; neither has Google asked for permission from these people to record their Device Hardware Ids for location tracking.

If I come sit really close to you, touch you, listen to what you say, see what you are doing, be nosey, does that make you uncomfortable? That's what we are worried about. That's what crossing the line means to me. Google has already crossed it.

xpxp2002 said,

It's true. I hear people all the time tell me how much they love Google and their products because "they're free and it's not Microsoft." The reality is that Google's products are not free. The difference is that with Apple and Microsoft, you pay for their products with money. With Google, you pay for their products with privacy. You can always make more money, but try getting your privacy back once you've given it away to Google.
+1

Edited by Jebadiah, Jul 26 2011, 5:49am :

As far as I know unless you are advertising your connection via something like adhoc your wifi only scans for networks? How would they even get data like that? Especially if you are already connected to a wifi network.

Lexcyn said,
As far as I know unless you are advertising your connection via something like adhoc your wifi only scans for networks? How would they even get data like that? Especially if you are already connected to a wifi network.

I think it's more things like printers and whatnot that it's picking up.