The Ghost of Snapped Shot

Or, welcome to my low-maintenance heck.

If You Didn't Hate Google Enough Already

Ok, if you didn't already hate google, and of course Microsoft (Brian?), then this should put shivers in your booties.  Heck, I don't mind Google and it timbers were shivered.  And that is saying something.

Google Street View Scanning & Mapping Your MAC Address?
    Why in the world would Google’s Street View cars be scanning for MAC addresses? According to the German Federal Data Protection Commissioner, Street View cars are equipped with Wi-Fi scanners that are mapping the location of wireless networks. What the?!?

    The data-protection official is worried that Google is acquiring various pieces of information about WiFi networks, including their location, name and protection protocol. The worse part, Schaar says, is that all this data is linked to a physical MAC address that could then be used to link IP addresses to real locations and, by extension, to real people.

(H/T to Steve at HardOCP)

Yet, things may not be what they appear to be...  Wait, what?  This is public data anyway?  This is what has been used for web-based locational information that has been used for years? 

On the face of it, it looks pretty bad. Google is covertly acquiring massive amounts of data, which it could use in correlation with all of its other data-collection methods to create a very accurate and detailed profile of every Internet user out there.

But there are some very big caveats with the whole logic. For one, this isn’t much of a secret. Google has said that it scans for WiFi networks and mobile-phone relays with Street View cars and this has been known for at least a couple of years.

Still, just because it acknowledges something, it doesn’t necessarily make it right. However, the data it collects is all public, these wireless networks are discoverable by anyone with the intention of doing so. Google doesn’t collect anything that is not already provided publicly. People shouldn’t expect the information that they make public to not be collected.

And the practice of mapping out wireless networks so that they could be used to determine the location of a user is widespread, it is one of the most common ways of figuring out where a user is without access to GPS data. This is how a site or browser can pinpoint your location on a laptop or other devices that don’t have dedicated location hardware.

Update: Google has put up an interesting post explaining the importance of 'location' for the web and the means by which a user's location is determined, among which is using Wi-Fi networks. The post doesn't directly address the German official's position, but the timing is more than coincidental.

[Update]  But, you didn't think I would let Google off that easy?  Did ya?



#1 Steven C. 25-Apr-2010
Since Google provide a phone operating system (and even phone hardware now, too), consider that they could acquire an uncomfortable amount of data about its owner.Google could certainly collect data on mobile web search/browsing habits, and location from the built-in GPS receiver. If they offered a 'cloud-based' backup of your phone data (I believe Nokia/Microsoft once offered that service), that may include your sent/received messages, call records and phone book (numbers of people who didn't give permission to have their data stored).But that's not all; many people have Bluetooth devices that broadcast a MAC-like serial number. If a location-aware phone scanned for those, it could essentially track the movement of _other_ people without their knowledge or consent.As for Wi-Fi scanning, the probes sent out by portable devices like laptops and iPhones may help track the movement of the people who carry them. The probes sometimes include a list of Wi-Fi networks they've configured on their device, which could feasible include the MAC for their home access point, work, university, favourite cafe with a Wi-Fi hotspot, etc.By the way, there's a wonderful search engine at that claims not to store your IP address, and I believe them. The ability to connect with SSL encryption can prevent your ISP / hacker next door / shady network admin from viewing your search habits (until you leave ixquick to view another website, at least).
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