Google Reprimanded for “The Single Greatest Breach in the History of Privacy”

google cars

Australian Communications Minister Quotes Google as being responsible for the “single greatest breach in the history of privacy”

Have you ever been driving and seen one of those silly looking Google cars driving by with the weird globe apparatus attached to its roof?  Though quite silly looking, those cars take the pictures and provide the “Street View” feature in Google Maps and Google Earth.  Over the past years these cars have gained celebrity status while traveling roads worldwide to collect data (pictures) for the program that we all so loved dearly.  It turns out there was something much more sinister going on.

Data Security and Network Vulnerability

google car cameraWhile Google was advertising the new features of the mapping software and proving its real life application it seems that they were not quite clear about what EXACTLY these cars were doing.  Most of the public was under the impression that Google was simply using these vehicles to collect pictures, but they were also collecting your information without your knowledge or consent.  Google admitted to collecting and saving “payload data” from un-encrypted WiFi communications while the cars were driving.

Description of Payload Data

Payload data is information that you upload or download through a WiFi connection.  This could include emails, URL addresses, file uploads or downloads, webpage downloads, etc.  While most of us are given a clear and concise warning about “open WiFi networks”, many of us still choose to connect while we are at the coffee shop or some other public place.  If you do this frequently, and there was a Google Street View Car nearby, the odds are your data was collected and saved by one of these cars.  This can also include credit card data, personal information (name, address, social security information, etc.

What does this data collection mean?

Google Street View Cars Capturing DataOkay, let’s say that Google Street View cars are on the go at least 6-8 hours a day every day during the week (conservative).  Let’s also say that they take the weekends off.  An actual Google Street View Driver admits that there are around 250 cars around the world right now. That means that they are capturing around 2000 hours of data per day.  Even if they were around unencrypted WiFi networks 25% of the time (also conservative) this means that over 500 hours of data collection could be uploaded and saved daily (1,095,000 hours since its conception in 2007).  Speed Tests released from the Campus confirm that they have an unearthly internet connection allowing the transfer of more data than anyone else on earth.  The end result is really a grey area.  Since we really don’t know how much data was being intercepted, we cannot really make any definitive speculations.  All we do know is that Google has admitted the interception of the data.

Google Maps Street View Worldwide

Many of the countries in which Google has presented the “Street View” feature, have, to say the least had mixed reviews.  The French Government fined Google 100,000 Euros ($138,000 USD) for the capture of un-encrypted data from French Citizens.  Great Britain, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Switzerland are also investigating Google for the same activity in their countries.  In March, there was a $7 Million settlement reached in Washington D.C. involving multiple states’ privacy policies for their citizens.  Ireland has even gotten involved filing for legal action earlier this year.

Mobile Device Security and Web Vulnerability

Many people want to know how to protect themselves from data collection just like this.  For the organizations that actually own the WiFi Network, we would recommend security assessments to see where the vulnerabilities are within your existing networks.  For the users, please refer to our mobile device security section for further information.  If consumers and organizations were properly educated on how to protect their data, much of these problems could have been averted.  If you would like to know more about Cyber Security and how to reduce the risk to your organization, please CONTACT US today for more information.

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