Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Google's stealing your data!

Okay, so the headline's a little hyperbolic. The truth of the matter is a programming glitch by a Google engineer in 2006 went unnoticed when the company later sent camera-laden cars driving up and down Canadian (and presumably American, European and other) streets for its Google Street View service.

The glitch resulted in the cars collecting far more than 360-degree pictures of their surroundings. They also captured Wi-Fi signals from folks like you and me (story here). And when those routers were not properly secured, said Google cars recorded personal information like names, e-mail addresses, proper addresses, phone numbers, and in at least one case the names of folks participating in a medical trial. Can we say oops?

Google has apologized for the oversight (months ago, actually) and has committed to righting this wrong by destroying the data, promising never to do it again and assigning a team of Googlers to wash and wax Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart's car.

So I'm stretching that last part. But Stoddart was ticked. And she called Google on it after thoroughly investigating the incident (press release here.) Media folks got wind of it, and before I knew it I was speaking with the good folks at the CBC. First I chatted with Sue Smith on CBC Radio Montreal's Home Run show this afternoon, then I ducked into the studio to chat with the national television news team for tonight's The National. If you're around a TV, the fun begins at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on CBC NN, and at 10:00 p.m. on the main CBC television network. I'll post links to the video here as they become available.

Your turn: Is an apology enough? Why is privacy such a touchy issue in the Internet Age?

This just in: Coverage of the Russell Williams court case (he's the monster making international headlines because he commanded Canada's largest air force base and flew heads of state around the globe while leading a double life of sadistic rapes and murders) forced CBC to cut the piece short. So my clips ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor. Which in the age of digital doesn't really exist, but you get the picture. Life in the media biz...no biggie. The phone will ring again soon.


Kalei's Best Friend said...

Nope, an apology is not enough, who is to say the 'mistake' won't happen again... Personal info. should not be accessible on the internet- that's why its 'personal' info., meaning its not 'public'...
BTW identity theft is rampant in the U.S., its the #1 common crime..

Karen Sather said...

Yes, please do post so we can share in this vital news story. I am a huge google fan, and especially of checking out streets, where I lived, where I want to live, if I'm bored and can't take a real trip! As for privacy-the moment we are born our privacy is at risk no matter what really, and still can be after our death. Don't you agree? We can always count on death, taxes and privacy issues.

Levonne said...

I'm so desensitized to lack of privacy. I sometimes want to be a private investigator so I can learn all the ways they use to get information. I might end up really mad though.

Cloudia said...

You show us what's "goin` on" Carmi!

My wireless router requires a code, is that secure?

Aloha from Hawaii

Comfort Spiral


The Gearheads said...

I have to say there is an irony in your posting this on a google run blog site. (or maybe not irony because it would seem I am not sure anymore it means what I think it means.)
As for the privacy, although it is my feeling that if you don't know how to secure your wifi, you may want to pay somebody to do so, and in fact if it were me I would be soooo much more pissed at the place that had my name from a medical trial on an open network for all to see than for google getting said info.
That being said, why was google actually gathering this information? What purpose did they have in having a mobile wireless network in the first place? I would think one would have an easier time wiring in said cameras than running them wi-fi.

In closing, in the immortal words of Tom Bodett, Wi-Fi stands for Wireless "Fi" ahh something."

Juniper said...

We had the same news thing over here; personally I can't get that excited about it. Not sure whether that is ignorance on my part or because this just seems to be part and parcel of life these days.

I second Cloudia's question: what constitutes an 'unsecured router'?

In a different vein, all the hoo-ha about Facebook and information and security: People, don't publish -anything- on the Internet that you aren't willing to share with the universe.


Oh and Street View is brilliant - we used it a LOT when we were looking for flats for Mr H that were 450 miles away, it saved a lot of wasted miles and property viewing time!


Serendipity said...

Ticked off after finding that facebook really remembers our searches. A mere typing of an alphabet shows the persons profile rather than your friends. Why do they have to record every move of ours? Creepy world!!

Anonymous said...

Identity theft is awful. My mother has been a victim of this crime.

You, however, have just made me glad I don't have Wi-Fi.

~Buff said...

I am puzzled by the distinction of what it private and what constitutes a theft of my information. I don't care if someone has a picture of the front of my house, but I don't want them to advertise that key to my front door hangs beside the mailbox (it doesn't really).

I am also puzzled by the identification of security risks, and the lack of responsibility to make some correction. Perhaps it is easy to secure routers, should this be where the privacy commissioner steps in to make requirements of industry - not just telling them to delete information they shouldn't have, no less collecting it in an ethically questionable manner?