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http://www.cnbc.com/id/37160227

By: The Associated Press | 14 May 2010 | 07:44 PM ET

SAN FRANCISCO - Google Inc. has been vacuuming up fragments of people's online activities broadcast over public Wi-Fi networks for the past four years, a breach of Web etiquette likely to raise more privacy worries about the Internet search leader.

Even Google was troubled by its behavior, and issued a public apology Friday. The company said it only recently discovered the problem in response to an inquiry from German regulators.

"Maintaining people's trust is crucial to everything we do, and in this case we fell short," Alan Eustace, Google's top engineering executive, wrote in a blog post.

Google characterized its collection of snippets from e-mails and Web surfing done on public Wi-Fi networks as a mistake, and said it has taken steps to avoid a recurrence. About 600 gigabytes of data was taken off of the Wi-Fi networks in more than 30 countries, including the U.S. Google plans to delete it all as soon as it gains clearance from government authorities.

None of the information has appeared in Google's search engine or other services, according to Eustace.

Nevertheless, Google's decision to hold on to the Wi-Fi data until it hears back from regulators shows the company realizes it could face legal repercussions. At the very least, company officials concede that snooping on Wi-Fi networks, however inadvertent, crossed an ethical line.

"We are acutely aware that we failed badly here," Eustace wrote.

Google's contrition may not be enough to allay growing concerns about whether the company can be trusted with the vast storehouse of personal information that it has gathered through its search engine, e-mail and other services.

Fears that Google is morphing into a real-life version of "Big Brother" has spurred previous privacy complaints, as well as pleas for more stringent regulation of the company.

Consumer Watchdog, a group that has become one of Google's most outspoken critics, renewed its call for a regulatory crackdown Friday.

"Once again, Google has demonstrated a lack of concern for privacy," said Consumer Watchdog's John Simpson. "Its computer engineers run amok, push the envelope and gather whatever data they can until their fingers are caught in the cookie jar."

The Wi-Fi data was sucked up while Google expanded a mapping feature called "Street View" that also has pressed privacy hot buttons. Street View provides photographs of neighborhoods taken by Google cameras that have sometimes captured people doing things they didn't want to be seen doing, or in places where they didn't want to be seen.

As it set out to photograph neighborhoods around the world, Google equipped its vehicles with antenna as well as cameras so it could create a database with the names of Wi-Fi networks and the coding of Wi-Fi routers.

What Google didn't know, Eustace said, is that some experimental software was being used in the Street View project, and that programming picked up the Web surfing on publicly accessible Wi-Fi networks if the company's vehicles were within range of the signal.

Google only gathered small bits of information because its vehicles were on the move and its tracking equipment switched channels five times a second.

The incident has prompted Google to abandon its effort to collect Wi-Fi network data. In an apparent show of its commitment to privacy, Google also said it will introduce a new option next week that will allow its users to encrypt searches on its Web site as an added protection against unauthorized snooping.
 

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AAAH GET TO ZE CHOPPA!
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Normally I wouldn't believe that a company could "accidentally" grab info off of random networks. However, in Google's case, I'm actually not surprised.

Their engineers are all open-source guys, so they think in terms of "hey there is all this data floating around, let's put it to use!" I think they adopt a mindset where there is this implied assumption that if they can find the data and cache it, it's fair game for them to use.

Facebook is having the same negative backlash for that reason. Facebook is now deploying hooks into news sites like CNN, BBC, etc. and allowing you to publish comments using your facebook account instead of a proprietary site account. It's very convenient in some ways, but it also means facebook owns that info. Then later down the road they make that info public without telling you and then say "well, you can change your privacy settings in subsection 2.2.a of the preferences..."
 

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Never Give up
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So could this not be criminal? How do they take care of the info? What if there is top secret info they got off of computers from government workers who were using there computers? Was someone selling the info? How do we know? Sounds like a posible terrorist action. Maybe obama should go after them.
 

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AAAH GET TO ZE CHOPPA!
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Clearance from government authorities?! meaning "lts going to take this little nugget for themselves." Nothing like a little free intel.
Woah, I completely glazed over that part. Since when does Google need government approval to remove cached data from its own data stores?
 
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some strange Nordic man
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Woah, I completely glazed over that part. Since when does Google need government approval to remove cached data from its own data stores?
Because the data they have, if illegal, is clearly criminal evidence. However ridiculous that may sound to you and I, deleting that information is either obstruction of justice or could be twisted into some "conspiracy to commit <whatever>," by a particularly sadistic DA. They're holding onto uranium-enriched kryptonite, basically, and they want to get rid of it as quickly and legally as possible.

I'm a big fan of Google to begin with, since they've basically gone on this whole crusade to be a model company and all. Since they're admitting their fault and not dashing to cover it up or even downplay it, I respect them more.
 

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not surprised...some ex-CIA guy complained about how closely Google was working with them(the CIA)...

also, Google makes a lot of their money by tracking people all over the internet - their "free" apps like Gmail, Google Docs, Picasa, etc are designed with this in mind and each download of their "free" Chrome browser has a unique ID, so even if you delete your cookies, Google can still track you around the web...
 

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sic transit gloria mundi
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How can Google be "surprised" by the fact that it's been devoting millions of dollars and human resources to a project that's been going on for 4 years.

Lyin' bastards
 

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I don't use Google any longer. I prefer Ask for a search engine. It's from way back in the days with DEC mini computers. Used to be Ask Jeeves but now it's just Ask. Just for grins try searching on Christianity is in google and see what comes up.
 

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Normally I wouldn't believe that a company could "accidentally" grab info off of random networks. However, in Google's case, I'm actually not surprised.

Their engineers are all open-source guys, so they think in terms of "hey there is all this data floating around, let's put it to use!" I think they adopt a mindset where there is this implied assumption that if they can find the data and cache it, it's fair game for them to use.

Facebook is having the same negative backlash for that reason. Facebook is now deploying hooks into news sites like CNN, BBC, etc. and allowing you to publish comments using your facebook account instead of a proprietary site account. It's very convenient in some ways, but it also means facebook owns that info. Then later down the road they make that info public without telling you and then say "well, you can change your privacy settings in subsection 2.2.a of the preferences..."
It's really just a mistake with packet capturing. Several countries recquire google to block and censor websites like China, part of that probably involves using an advanced packet capture software. The software probably saved a ton of packets to data drives because that is a default setting that google did not remember to turn off.
 
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