Google “600GB of personal data”

June 29, 2010 at 6:59 pm Leave a comment

Once upon a time, there was this little search engine. It’s most recent project was to use “Street View” vehicles to snap pictures to add more precisecontent to their Maps utility.

Except those same vehicles were using Wi-Fi discovery software called Kismet, to allow the search engine to automatically collect information about wireless networks, like the ones behind looked doors (inside people’s homes).

They collected about 600 gigabytes of data, about the same as 600 movies downloaded from the iTunes store. Some of this information includes whether the routes are encrypted or not. It also could include things like credit card numbers, bank account data, texts from personal chat sessions, email or personal photos.

Supposedly though, mapping people’s private wireless networks was the only goal.

If they managed to walk away with 600GB of personal data because of a bug in their system that they company was unaware of (other than the programmer of the rogue software and/or hacker) it begs the question of what else this search engine has missed or is unaware of?

The software to capture Wi-Fi data in neighbourhoods across Canada is called Kismet and the search engine that was infected with a rogue software running in tandem with Kismet, is Google.

Another piece of the story which (up till now) I had forgotten is that Kismet, while used primarily by network administrators, is also used by hackers who participate in “War Driving”.

War driving: People ride through neighbourhoods looking for networks that are free so they can hop on and access the internet. Sort of like leaving the sprinkler on and having random people come by with buckets to fill up. That’s water that you’ve paid for, like the Wi-Fi and router is your privately owned equipment.

This is a major problem since many people do not have encryptions on their wireless home networks.

Apparently the whole point of mapping people’s home networks was to improve Google’s geolocation services as an alternative to GPS. Therefore the unique ID of a wireless router will help locate a person’s home on a map – making it public infrastructure.

Something definitely upsetting Canada’s privacy commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart.

In essence, Vito Pilieci (the writer) argues that the issue boils down Goggle’s initiative to create an alternative to GPS by piggybacking on private Wi-Fi networks.

The government will be dealing more closely with newly risen questions such as

  • Should any tech company be able to derive a benefit and turn a profit by piggybacking on a service on privately owned equipment?

(Information thanks to the Vito Pilieci of Gazette)


Entry filed under: Society in Transition.

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