Canada probes Google on wireless data collection

BOSTON Tue Jun 1, 2010 5:54pm EDT

A construction worker walks past a logo next to the main entrance of the Google building in Zurich May 25, 2010. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

A construction worker walks past a logo next to the main entrance of the Google building in Zurich May 25, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann

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BOSTON (Reuters) - Canada has launched a probe into Google Inc as legal problems escalate surrounding the search engine's disclosure that it collected private data while taking photographs for its Street View product.

Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said on Tuesday that she was concerned about the privacy implications stemming from the collection of data from wireless networks in Canada, the United States and other countries.

"We have a number of questions about how this collection could have happened," she said in a statement. "We've determined that an investigation is the best way to find the answers."

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has already begun an informal inquiry into the matter.

Google said in a statement that it would cooperate with authorities to answer their questions and address their concerns. It has previously denied any wrongdoing.

The Internet giant has sent fleets of cars around the world for several years to take panoramic pictures that it uses in its online atlas.

Google first revealed that cars were also collecting wireless data in April, but said that no personal information from Wi-Fi networks was involved. But after an audit requested by Germany, Google acknowledged in May it mistakenly had collected samples of "payload data."

Suits have been filed in Washington D.C., California, Massachusetts and Oregon by people who accuse Google of violating their privacy by collecting data from open Wi-Fi networks.

U.S. lawmakers have asked the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to look into the matter, and a district court in Portland, Oregon, has ordered Google to make two copies of a hard drive containing data from the United States and turn them over to the court.

(Reporting by Jim Finkle; Editing by Frank McGurty and Matthew Lewis)

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Comments (6)
adaviel wrote:
Pragmatically, unencrypted data broadcast on a public radio frequency is, well, public. Most home users will now be using encryption on their WiFi, while anyone using an open hotspot needs to realize that their online activity can be snooped from 30m or more, and act accordingly. Google has done nothing particularly egregious – WiFi traffic is received (though usually ignored) by every passing iPhone. Google’s capture of access point ID improves navigation on cellphones, and possibly allows more accurate location of 911 calls.

Jun 01, 2010 6:20pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
drclue wrote:
Well, every government “privacy” agency
gets to have their 15 minutes of fame
and strut around demonstrating their self
importance.

The beacon ids on all them packets folks carelessly toss out the window are simply used for building more detailed maps so that folks can find their oh so important star bucks.

The problem was that the off the shelf
code used to collect the beacon ids , by default collects the whole packet.

It would have been an extra coding step to
nuke the random bits of data , and
probably the fellow coding it , thought
nothing of it , as indeed , they are but random scraps.

None the less , we’ll be hearing folks
make hay of it, as puttering around with
Google makes excellent cover for
governments that have very little to show
in justifying their existence.

Jun 01, 2010 8:29pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
guestaz wrote:
My friend for all eternity is Google. Long after I am dust Google on its servers will preserve some essence of who I am/was except that I opted out of Web History and other Google data capture services:

++++++++++

For those with a Google account your IP and web activity are kept forever if you did not opt out of Web History. Not to be confused with Google’s Search Engine terms and conditions, Web History is an “opt out” feature attached to the set up of a Google account e.g. Gmail such that if you did not opt out you are accepting Google’s “Web History” terms and conditions, which are different than their Search Engine terms and conditions.

Web History Terms and Conditions

“What information do you collect when I use Web History?

In order to provide the service, Web History saves information about your web activity, including pages you visit and searches on Google. Over time, the service may use additional information about your activity on Google or other information you provide us in order to deliver a better search experience. The Web History Privacy Policy will be updated to inform you of any substantive changes to the service. Also, as stated in the main Google Privacy Policy, when you use any Google service, we collect additional information including your Internet Protocol address, browser type, browser language and one or more cookies that may uniquely identify your browser.

What happens when I pause the service, remove items, or delete the Web History service?

You can choose to stop storing your web activity in Web History either temporarily or permanently, or remove items, as described in Web History Help. If you remove items, they will be removed from the service and will not be used to improve your search experience. As is common practice in the industry, Google also maintains a separate logs system for auditing purposes and to help us improve the quality of our services for users. For example, we use this information to audit our ads systems, understand which features are most popular to users, improve the quality of our search results, and help us combat vulnerabilities such as denial of service attacks”

http://www.google.com/searchhistory/privacyfaq.html#edit

The following is an excerpt from Google’s Search Engine terms and does not apply to the Web History service:

Search Engine Terms and Conditions

“Why are search engine logs kept before being anonymized?

We strike a reasonable balance between the competing pressures we face, such as the privacy of our users, the security of our systems and the need for innovation. We believe anonymizing IP addresses after 9 months and cookies in our search engine logs after 18 months strikes the right balance.”

http://www.google.com/privacy_faq.html#toc-anonymize

Note for Chrome, Google Tool Bar etc there are yet more and different sets of terms and conditions, for example with Chrome each installation has a unique application (identification) number, which when combined with other Google services provides a significant amount of data about an individual user.

Tool Bar provides even more granularity of an individual users online activity. Then there are new products such as Google Voice. Every voice mail, phone number etc. (even if you cancel your account) is permanently logged.

http://www.google.com/googlevoice/privacy-policy.html

Jun 01, 2010 9:35pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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