Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Google: About That Wi-Fi Payload Data We Said We Had Deleted …

Google today admitted it had found that it still has within its possession user data from around the world that had been captured by its Street View cars. The company previously said it deleted, in late 2010, all the data its cars had slurped up through open Wi-Fi networks.

News of the remaining data got out because the U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office published a statement about it that included the full text of Google’s Friday email.

Google said it was “in touch with other data protection authorities in the European Union” on the same topic.

Other countries affected include Ireland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Australia. Google had collected the data between 2008 and 2010.

Google today apologized for this latest error, which it said was discovered in a recent inspection of its Street View disks. The company said it would like to delete the remaining data, but gave local authorities the option to look at the data before it was destroyed.

And, in fact, the ICO’s head of enforcement Steve Eckersley replied to Google today that his organization would like to examine the data Google had found.

The ICO had reopened its investigation into the issue in June, after it became clear that user data had been collected deliberately — a fact that hadn’t previously been public. Remember, this was news about the “rogue engineer” who designed Google Street View cars to suck up payload data from open Wi-Fi networks as it was driving around.

Google has for years rather unsuccessfully tried to downplay the incident. In April 2010, Google denied that it had collected any payload data; then it later admitted it had collected data “mistakenly.” Then the company and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission released a report that showed the wardriving system was knowingly built by a Google engineer, and it sailed through internal approval processes without thorough review of the privacy implications.

Google has been cleared of wrongdoing in the incident by various authorities, though it was fined $25,000 by the FCC for impeding its investigation.

Update: Additional countries are speaking out. Ireland’s Deputy Information Commissioner Gary Davis told the Associated Press the prolonged data retention was “clearly unacceptable” and he is asking Google for answers by Wednesday.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work