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

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Max Dunn (profile) says:

"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.

PaulT (profile) says:

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.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

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.

Karl Bode (profile) says:

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.

P J Bryant says:

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.

Karl Bode (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Stoned says:

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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