Stephen Conroy Continues To Attack Google; Claims WiFi Data Collection Was Done On Purpose

from the proof-plese? dept

Stephen Conroy, the Australian politician who has been pushing hard to massively filter and censor Australia's internet has been fighting Google for a while now. After the company made comments about why such censorship was a bad idea, rather than respond to the issues, Conroy came out swinging by attacking the company for its Buzz privacy mishap, and quoting Eric Schmidt out of context. So, of course, with Google's WiFi data capture admission, Conroy has some new ammo. He's claiming that it couldn't possibly have been an accident and that this represents "the largest privacy breach in history across Western democracies."

While it's no surprise that Conroy doesn't like Google and its opposition to his plan to censor the internet, perhaps he should stay away from laughably ridiculous hyperbole. The only data Google collected was what was passed over open WiFi connections in the split seconds that it drove by those access points with its Street View vehicles. These are networks where anyone on those networks could have just as easily have done the same thing -- except if someone was really on one of those networks, they could keep recording that data, rather than moving on when the traffic light changed. Furthermore, there's no evidence that Google ever did anything whatsoever with whatever data it did collect. Making claims about this being some huge privacy breach when there's no evidence that anyone ever even saw the data seems pretty questionable.


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  1.  
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    PaulT (profile), May 27th, 2010 @ 2:33am

    "the largest privacy breach in history across Western democracies."

    I still fail to understand how *anything* on Street View can possibly be a privacy breach, given that it's all recorded on public roads. I can understand the argument about the camera being mounted higher than the view from most vehicles (though I still don't buy the privacy argument), but data that's being transmitted into public airspace outside the user's home? Please.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2010 @ 2:47am

    Weird. I'd say the largest data breach in history would be the NSA started under Bush and continued by Obama.

     

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    asylum, May 27th, 2010 @ 3:07am

    I would say the biggest privacy breach is when Conroy introduces the internet filter?

    It's going to be introduced at ISP level, all addresses entered will be examined by the filter, therefore can be tracked back to your IP address that you were given by the ISP at that point in time. Therefore the governement will know everything you do on the internet.

    Conroy reckons they wont use it for anything but to block sites.

    He might be right? but what about the next government.

    I'll be signing up to circumvent conroy using www.vpnsecure.me

     

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    Josef, May 27th, 2010 @ 4:14am

    Re: Definitely

    I was thinking the same thing when I read that comment. Bush definitely initiated the largest breach of privacy ever, and rather than correct the issue, Obama seems perfectly comfy with it.

    It makes me continue to wonder what he meant by "Change".

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2010 @ 4:18am

    Re:

    Anytime anyone gets even the most remote possible chance to criticize Google they will take it and exaggerate it to the highest degree possible. They're Google, it's a good company that does a lot of good for the world, so all the evil companies hate them as a result and there is a double standard holding that Google is never allowed to mess up, not even once, even if they later apologize and fix their mistake. Other companies are perfectly allowed to do far worse and get away with it.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2010 @ 4:21am

    Re:

    But look at all of the hundreds of terrorists caught by this warrantless wiretapping plan. It was so successful that without it all those hundreds of terrorists wouldn't be in jail, they would be free terrorizing the world instead.

     

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  7.  
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    Lauriel (profile), May 27th, 2010 @ 4:53am

    Conroy is once again proving both his narrow mindedness and his lack of understanding on anything remotely related to the technological side of his portfolio. Even others in parliament were saying this was nothing more than a personal attack against Google.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2010 @ 5:21am

    What could they do with that information?? Create a collection of interesting SSID's? Because thats about all they could have gathered in such a short period of time....unless they were stopped for longer periods.

     

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  9.  
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    abc gum, May 27th, 2010 @ 5:24am

    Accuse others of what you are guilty of - typical MO of a liar

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2010 @ 5:25am

    On behalf of all Australians I'd like to apologize to the rest of the world for the joke that is Stephen Conroy.

     

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    Radjin, May 27th, 2010 @ 5:26am

    Conroy is the moral equivalent of Kellogg here in the US who by the way promoted circumcisions as a way to keep us boys from playing. He's government, socialist government. That type of government likes to keep very close tabs on its people always in the name of we can take care of you better then you.

    Bush and Obama are government too, and the usual government rule is to never give up anything about its people once you get it, taxes, information, etc... The difference is Obama is socialist government and if he can put eyes in your bedroom he will, and again there’s the let’s make this company and that company a government entity for the betterment of society.

    Google is a fantastic company that like others hit that perfect sweet spot at the right time. But don't be fooled, like any company they are there to make money and they make their money by collecting as much information about you as possible.

     

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  12.  
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    Michial Thompson, May 27th, 2010 @ 5:34am

    There might be some argument

    There may be some truth to the claim that Google's capturing was intentional, or at least intentionally overlooked. As for privacy issues, the only ground is that google brings attention to the open wifi that would not have otherwise been brought to it.

    The same argument about a criminal using Google Street view to find potential victims could be expanded upon and claim that a potential cyber criminal could use Google to find open wifi. The first part could be countered that its easier/better for a burglar to case the house physically, but the latter's defense is a little harder because the cyber criminal is already pre-disposed to using the internet for his crime, so it would make logical sense that rather than drive around with a sniffer it would be more likely that he would use google to find open wifi that was more suited to his needs.

    As for Google's intentionally collecting the data, or intentionally overlooking the fact that it was recording it. The argument would need to point to the VOLUME of data that was collected. Google's techs should have had their first clue that there was an issue by the volume/size of the data that was being collected. SSID and Mac addresses are a predictable size, and when they were receiving more than that predictable amount they should have investigated further.

    In either case it's a stretch, but honestly something needs to be done about the privacy issues that technology is breaching. The arguement of stepping out into public is accepting the lack of privacy goes only so far. When I stand in my garage with the door open, my expectation is that only those neighbors that I can see are also able to see me. It is REASONABLE for me to expect that someone half way around the world would not be able to see me.

    When I walk down a public street, it is REASONABLE for me to have the same expectations.

    Electronically my expectations of privacy is a little different. I don't like that my wireless can be snooped on, but I cannot control that. I can only reduce the risk of it by securing my wireless access point.

     

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  13.  
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    Big Al, May 27th, 2010 @ 5:42am

    Re: There might be some argument

    "It is REASONABLE for me to expect that someone half way around the world would not be able to see me."
    "When I walk down a public street, it is REASONABLE for me to have the same expectations."
    Unfortunately, since the invention of the camera in the late 1800s, this has no longer been "REASONABLE" and a number of failed lawsuits in multiple countries will attest to that...

     

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  14.  
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    Michael, May 27th, 2010 @ 5:58am

    Re:

    The SSID's they have collected are being used. They are actually using some of the information about the wireless networks they find to triangulate position using Wi-Fi rather than GPS because it is more power-efficient to do so.

    Actually, that is not the issue at hand. In getting this network information, they picked up some data packets as well. They claim to not be doing anything with them (which I completely believe), but they could have picked up passwords and other sensitive information.

    However, for this to be a problem for a specific person, you would have had to actually been transmitting something sensitive on your unsecured wireless connection while the street view car was passing by. Because there are so many of them, they have probably picked up a few pieces of private information, but it is arguably not private if you are using an unsecured wireless network.

    This is a lot like someone shouting a password to someone across the street and complaining that Google heard it while they were driving by.

     

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  15.  
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    JTO (profile), May 27th, 2010 @ 6:05am

    Re: There might be some argument

    Google's data capture WAS intentional. They were mapping free, open WiFi connections. Any other data captured were incidental.

    If I wanted to pirate WiFi, I can simply walk out my door. The dismal state of WiFi security would be laughable if the potential for harm weren't so great. Even then, I could simply go to a Panera Bread, McDonalds, or local coffee shop if I wanted to use anonymous, free Internet resources.

    I don't know if you're aware, but storage is cheap. When you collect data in such a scatter-shot pattern, you only filter out the data you want and ignore the rest. Eventually, it will be overwritten, but a 1.5TB drive can contains a lot of data before throwing any warnings. Heck, a 500GB drive can contain loads of harmful data.

    If a college coed takes off her shirt at Mardi Gras, there is a REASONABLE expectation that someone will take her picture. There is also a REASONABLE expectation that some Japanese businessman might end up buying that same picture out of a vending machine in a Tokyo train station. If you stand in front of your windows naked, don't be upset when you find pictures of your naked butt on the Internet.

    Take the 3 minutes to secure your network using the wizards included with the router software.

     

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  16.  
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    abc gum, May 27th, 2010 @ 6:29am

    Re: Re:

    "The SSID's they have collected are being used. They are actually using some of the information about the wireless networks they find to triangulate position using Wi-Fi rather than GPS because it is more power-efficient to do so.
    "

    This does not make a whole lot of sense, is there any evidence to support this claim?

    1) I was unaware that Google was recording WIFI signals via a directional antenna. Is there anything to support this claim?
    2) How could there be a power savings? Not only must one record directional data of the wifi signals, but then there must be postprocessing of that data in order to triangulate and make the data useful in the future.
    3) GPS receivers are not power hungry.
    4) There is no assurance that wifi locations are static.
    5) If GPS is not accurate enough, they could use WAAS or equivalent. Not usre if there is such a thing in Europe.

     

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  17.  
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    call me skeptical, May 27th, 2010 @ 6:51am

    Stephen Conroy

    How many of us in the US knew who Stephen Conroy was before the Google flap?

    Steve, your 15 minutes has ended. Please exit.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2010 @ 7:08am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I cannot speak to the power efficiency issue but they are definitely collecting the mac/SSID info to use for triangulation. SKYHOOK is a company that has based its whole business around the process http://www.skyhookwireless.com/

     

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  19.  
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    Jeff, May 27th, 2010 @ 7:20am

    Maybe Google should go pull out a few skeletons from his closet and speak up about them. That is what he is doing to them. They are against the censorship, so now he wants to find anything and everything that Google might have slipped up on and act like it's a great conspiracy.

    I still say that if you are using an open Wi-fi and anyone can drive by and see the info, then it's just like you have your windows open and tape that info to the window for anyone to see. If they got anything from your wi-fi, then it's your own fault for not securing it!

    Don't blame Google for your own ignorance or carelessness. At least they came out and said they did it. What about that creepy guy across the street that's collecting everything you are broadcasting, or the van parked down the road a ways that is doing the same thing.

    You might want to listen to Google and secure your own belongings rather than bitch at them for telling your your fly is open!!!!

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2010 @ 7:28am

    Conroy isn't someone Australians are proud of. He's a product of a dysfunctional political system and has no business attempting to 'represent' the Australian people. He's controlled by right winged, neo-facists hiding under the banner of Christian conservatives, who prefer to try to return social culture back to the 1200s rather than accept the 21st century.

    On behalf of all Australians, we sincerely apologize for Conroy as a poor excuse for an Australian and someone who should be digging ditches in a mine somewhere, and not allowed to embarrass the great country of Australia to the rest of the world like this.

    We are very sorry for Conroy.

     

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  21.  
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    kevinmitnick (profile), May 27th, 2010 @ 7:55am

    hire a hacker

     

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  22.  
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    Michael, May 27th, 2010 @ 11:06am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Forgive me, I cannot find the statement google released (I think it was on their official blog) explaining what they collected and what they used.

    They are planning to (or already are) using the MAC addresses and SSID's to triangulate estimated position because devices that can find their position without powering up a GPS will consume less power. GPS receivers are a bit power hungry - compared to leaving them off. It also allows them to find position on a device with no GPS receiver.

    It is understood that it is not 100% accurate, but in a city with a lot of WiFi, it can be pretty close.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2010 @ 11:07am

    Bias

    This article has me somewhat concerned about techdirt's supposed journalistic "tendencies."

    Can you possibly stop and look at the other side of the issue for a moment? I know this is a forte for pulp journalism, but perhaps it would serve you here as well?

    Fact: Google collected and stored private information broadcast in the clear. This is equivalent to a company collecting information that was being broadcast in the clear but was not intended to be recorded. On one hand you have a lack of security, but on the other hand you have active gathering of information. If a private party did this it would be grounds for criminal and civil suits. Just because something is insecure, doesn't mean it's AOK to collect and store said information.

    Then there is the issue of disclosure. Google didn't disclose this until a Friday afternoon, after Germany demanded an audit, when media shops tend to shut down for the week and people don't pay attention. Were Google up front about this, they would have disclosed this information as soon as possible and purged the data ASAP.

    I can see two sides to this story, but your small blurb readily ignores how a company can collect and store private information and get away with it. I'm curious why you pick on this one politician when there are numerous infuriated politicians about this incident in Europe.

    Would it have been OK if the data was still collected but the wifi used WAP, which is easily crackable? Would it have been OK if companies set up listening devices at Google's campuses and just collected everything, and if they come across unencrypted data they'd just have to "deal"

    Shameful. Show us two sides of the story, dude.

     

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  24.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), May 27th, 2010 @ 11:29am

    Re: Bias

    This article has me somewhat concerned about techdirt's supposed journalistic "tendencies."


    This is an opinion site. We are not journalists and never claimed to be. Do not ascribe to us some rules that we have not put on ourselves.

    Can you possibly stop and look at the other side of the issue for a moment?

    Of course I've looked at "the other side" (there is more than one side to this, too, you know...?). I just don't find it even remotely credible.

    I know this is a forte for pulp journalism

    When you have no real argument, always make sure to include an insult.

    Again, we're not a journalism site. Never have been.

    Fact: Google collected and stored private information broadcast in the clear.

    If it was private, why was it broadcast in the clear? That's a big part of the issue.

    If a private party did this it would be grounds for criminal and civil suits. Just because something is insecure, doesn't mean it's AOK to collect and store said information.

    For someone who mocks us for not providing the "other side of the story" did you not notice that we specifically called Google out on this particular effort as being a huge black eye for the company, and something the company never should have done?

    But why stick with what we actually said when you just want to slam us?

    The point of this post was to point out the ridiculousness in Conroy's comments.

    Then there is the issue of disclosure. Google didn't disclose this until a Friday afternoon, after Germany demanded an audit, when media shops tend to shut down for the week and people don't pay attention.

    Indeed. That was bad, and we said so.

    I can see two sides to this story, but your small blurb readily ignores how a company can collect and store private information and get away with it.

    We already posted how bad this was for Google. This post is not about that. It's about Conroy's overreaction.

    I'm curious why you pick on this one politician when there are numerous infuriated politicians about this incident in Europe.

    Because his comments are ridiculous

    Would it have been OK if the data was still collected but the wifi used WAP, which is easily crackable?

    You are ascribing to me positions I have actively disagreed with already, in noting that this was a really bad thing for Google to do. So, no, I don't think it was okay and I don't think this would be okay, nor have I said so.

    But that's not what this post is about.

    I think it's totally possible (despite your assertions) to note that what Google did was bad, but at the same time point out that politicians are overreacting in their response to it.

    That's what my post was doing.

    Shameful. Show us two sides of the story, dude.


    This is an opinion site. I'm not here to repeat bullshit from one side if I think it's bullshit. I'm here to give you my opinion. If you think it's wrong, PROVE it in the comments. But don't pretend I said something I didn't.

     

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  25.  
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    Darryl, May 27th, 2010 @ 1:53pm

    More "shock jock" or 'hack' reporting.

    "YES, Sir it was an accident, we were just driving around taking our photo's for Google streetview, and the laptop happend to pop open, and the specialist WiFi open channel logging software just happend to get clicked, along with the dedicated GPS locator, and all that data was accendently logged. Could of happend to anyone, just like tripping over a crack in the pavement and falling over, honestly it was an accident!"

    Mark:
    " Furthermore, there's no evidence that Google ever did anything whatsoever with whatever data it did collect. Making claims about this being some huge privacy breach when there's no evidence that anyone ever even saw the data seems pretty questionable."

    That means, "Ive not looked, and I have not found any evidence, therefore none exist".

    And ofcourse NO ONE looked at it, not even enough people for one of those "no ones" to call shinanigians, and say "hay some people mighted get pissed off with this".

    And if "no one" was aware of it, why did they have to announce it? And do you honestly think that if 1000 copies of the file were emailed to some of their wardriving friends they would freely admit it.

    So to say "no one" knew about it, is wrong clearly many people did, and that it was "an accident" is complete rubbish, you dont do something like that by "accident" it takes a high degree of planing and execution and technical knowledge to do something like that.

    And certainly not "anyone" could do the same thing, is totally wrong.

    And just because you CAN do something does not make it right or legal to do it.

    Why dont you spend some time and learn how to be a journo, or something..

     

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  26.  
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    Scootah (profile), May 27th, 2010 @ 5:35pm

    On behalf of all Australians, I'd like to Appologise for Conroy. He's an idiot and we're not sure how he became a state official, much less how he ended up in charge of telecommunications.

    We're really sorry.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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