Monday, May 17, 2010

Google accidentally spys on open WiFi

Ben Rooney of reports that the Google has admitted that it's Streetview cars have been collecting data from open WiFi hotspots. Google first admitted to collecting the publicly broadcast information of open hotspots, things like the network names and router numbers, on April 27th. But after being asked for more information, Google says that they discovered more data was being collected - private data in the packets being transmitted across the network. Supposedly the code that gathered data packets was accidentally entered into software used to gather public information on WiFi.

The software changes channels five times a second, so only bits and pieces of data would be gathered. Encrypted data, like the communications between you and your bank account, cannot be read, so it won't have been compromised by Google's illicit scans.

Google is, of course saying that it was an accident. In response they have stopped all scanning of open WiFi by their streetview cars until they can repair and replace the faulty software. They have arranged for a third party to review the software and the data collected from public WiFi networks.

This is a major blunder by Google. Whether it was a case of pushing the envelope to see what the reaction would be or an honest mistake, it's going to hurt Google's reputation. This one I tend to believe was an accident. In many nations it is illegal to tamper with electronic communications. Google may want to gather and use information, but breaking the law to do it isn't good business.