UK's Turn To Worry About Google's Gathering Of Harmless, Public Wi-Fi Information

from the regulators-should-understand-the-technology-they're-regulating dept

We just got done exploring how German privacy regulators are "horrified" about how Google is (just as many other companies have been doing for years) gathering publicly-available Wi-Fi hotspot data for GPS triangulation and localized search. Of course the data being collected can't really identify users outside of their router brand preference and use of nerd SSID humor -- but that didn't stop a flood of hysterical articles that assumed Google was using this data for some nefarious purpose. As if on cue, Germany's complaints have now drawn the attention of UK regulators -- who say they're now going to quiz Google about the practice. While Wi-Fi clearly confuses many regulators and the press (look at the usual reaction to war driving), it is important that Google is transparent about this process, but so far there's every indication they're doing a good job on that front. The company posted another blog post this week and sent this filing (pdf) to privacy regulators in multiple countries highlighting exactly what's being collected, what it's being used for, while reiterating that the data can't identify specific users and isn't being published. So the question then is: how long before U.S. and other European regulators start to freak out?

 



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(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Max Dunn, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 12:18am

    "Harmless" is subjective and leading... oh, and incorrect

    Bah, let us decide what's harmless, inform us without such bias. Google is the company taking pictures of every house in the country, there is obviously tons of potential harm from their activities as a whole and you can't isolate one activity as if it is standalone.

    As a whole, yes they are harmful, they enjoy a monopoly and power is corrupting them just as it always corrupts companies in that position, they are the Microsoft of 1996 all over again and deserve more scrutiny/skepticism, not less.

     

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  2.  
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    mike allen (profile), Apr 29th, 2010 @ 12:31am

    so

    what is harmfull about pictures of streets any one can walk down that street and see the same thing daily nothing wrong there. nothing wrong with collecting wi fi spots.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 1:16am

    It seems weird that when using the Google Maps application on an iPod Touch (without GPS) and you request it to show your location, it shows your location being the street behind you.

    Is that because the WiFi AccessPoint you have is pointed out the window, and visually can be seen behind you?

    I'm not complaining, I just find it interesting that Google/Apple's CoreLocation system works this way.

    If I would have known, I would have moved my AP.

     

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  4.  
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    P J Bryant, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 3:11am

    Re: so

    Google Street View *IS* a problem when the camera is mounted substantially higher than eye level and the photos show details of the property, gardens and through windows that are not avaialble to the average pedestrian. And no, there are no double decker buses in this part of the world. Not even buses.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 4:53am

    Re:

    Part of what collecting the location of all these WIFI access points does is allow the use of WIFI as poor mans GPS. I can reliably see three or four sites when I turn on my airport and I know that a few neighbors have their hidden.

     

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  6.  
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    PaulT (profile), Apr 29th, 2010 @ 4:58am

    Re: "Harmless" is subjective and leading... oh, and incorrect

    "obviously tons of potential harm from their activities as a whole"

    [citation needed]

    I'm still mystified as how people can claim that taking pictures of things that are in full public view is a privacy violation, let alone how it could be causing actual harm.

     

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  7.  
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    PaulT (profile), Apr 29th, 2010 @ 5:06am

    Re:

    The iPod Touch isn't a GPS device, so it only makes a rough guess as to your physical location. Simple as that.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 5:59am

    Karl always defends Google, while criticizing other companies that do the same thing. Bias anyone?

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 8:31am

    Re: "Harmless" is subjective and leading... oh, and incorrect

    Aside from the fact that your paranoia about public photos of...public areas being available...

    This article, and the word harmless, have nothing to do with the photos, but the (again) PUBLIC Wi-Fi information being gathered.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 8:32am

    Re:

    Normally people provide evidence when making claims. You should try it.

     

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  11.  
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    nasch (profile), Apr 29th, 2010 @ 9:04am

    Re: Re:

    If that were the explanation, the location would sometimes be in the street, sometimes the house next door, sometimes the back yard, and sometimes right on. The claim is that the location is *always* the street outside the house. Lack of precision does not explain this.

     

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  12.  
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    nasch (profile), Apr 29th, 2010 @ 9:05am

    Re: "Harmless" is subjective and leading... oh, and incorrect

    Bah, let us decide what's harmless, inform us without such bias.

    There's a difference between bias and opinion.

     

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  13.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Apr 29th, 2010 @ 12:50pm

    Re: Re: "Harmless" is subjective and leading... oh, and incorrect

    I think what people are reacting to isn't the taking of the pictures as an isolated act. I think that people are getting very nervous abut the fact that if you know enough publicly-accessible information about someone, then you know them intimately. Each individual thing isn't that big of a deal, but when these meaningless bits are aggregated, you might as well be tapping their phone. Google is particularly nervous-making because data aggregation is their primary business.

    The privacy is lost in a distributed way, so no single event is a major breach. All of them collectively is, though.

     

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  14.  
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    Karl Bode (profile), Apr 29th, 2010 @ 3:02pm

    Re: "Harmless" is subjective and leading... oh, and incorrect

    "there is obviously tons of potential harm from their activities as a whole"

    Could you name some?

     

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  15.  
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    Karl Bode (profile), Apr 29th, 2010 @ 3:06pm

    Re: Re: so

    So they can see your azaleas, that any of the hundreds of service and delivery people have seen (and more)?

    This is an era where AT&T hands over every byte directly to the NSA, and your ISP sells your clickstream data to the highest bidder with little to no substantive consumer protections in place.

    Worrying about elevated photographs of your front door strikes me as curious.

     

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  16.  
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    Karl Bode (profile), Apr 29th, 2010 @ 3:08pm

    Re: Re: Re: "Harmless" is subjective and leading... oh, and incorrect

    "if you know enough publicly-accessible information about someone, then you know them intimately"

    Again, in this instance, all you'd know about me is that I'm not creative when naming my Linksys router. There's no data here being published, and the data that exists isn't really useful as any kind of personal identifier.

    That's not to say there aren't instances of data collection that definitely need watching.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Stoned, May 11th, 2010 @ 4:05am

    Do you reall know what you are talking about?

    "gathering publicly-available Wi-Fi hotspot data for GPS triangulation" At which stage of the process is Wi-Fi hotspot data used in the calculation of GPS position? Please explain in full, I'm intrigued. Maybe you need to look up GPS augmentation or the pronciples of trilateration. Could it be that you don't understand how Google are using the data to calculate position?

     

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