updated 06:00 pm EDT, Fri May 14, 2010
Google admits collecting Wi-Fi info with map team
Google today warned that it had accidentally picked up on Wi-Fi data while taking photos for Google Maps' Street View feature. Cars using the panoramic cameras for the past three years caught not just the SSIDs and MAC addresses that identified networks and devices but also "fragments" of the actual data itself. The intercepts didn't include either whole data or any information that passed over a secure network, the company said.
The slip occurred as code used only to detect the presence of the networks accidentally included test code developed by an engineer in 2006 that would automatically scrape traffic on the networks themselves. Google insisted in a statement that it hadn't intended to collect the data or had any knowledge that it existed until now.
In response, Google said it had halted all Street View photo capturing and now planned to stop getting Wi-Fi information altogether. The company also said it would talk to regulators in countries with Street View maps to make sure it disposes of any data according to local laws.
The issue raises further questions about the privacy of Street View data, which has led some in the UK and elsewhere to sometimes resist the cameras themselves. Google nonetheless disclaimed that it not only recently began using SSL encryption on Gmail but that, next week, it will have a secure version of its core search engine.
"The engineering team at Google works hard to earn your trust--and we are acutely aware that we failed badly here," senior engineering and research VP Alan Eustace said. "We are profoundly sorry for this error and are determined to learn all the lessons we can from our mistake."