Google has stepped in the privacy sh*t again. The Google cars collecting data for Google Maps’s nifty Street View service have also been inadvertently collecting information off of people’s unsecured wireless networks. If someone’s Wi-Fi account lacked a password and encryption, the cars had the ability to snatch some data.
Google claims the Wi-Fi sniffing was inadvertent, that this was a programming error, and that it didn’t realize it was stockpiling the personal info. It was discovered by German investigators and now has EU regulators up in arms, says Ashby Jones at the WSJ Law Blog. It’s unclear how much data exactly was sniffed during brief drive-bys of houses. It’s also unclear why anyone would set up a Wi-Fi account without password protection these days. But there’s no law banning stupid/lazy people from filing invasion of privacy lawsuits.
Two West Coast plaintiffs filed a class action suit in Oregon on Monday, asking Google to “pay up to $10,000 for each time it snatched data from unprotected hotspots.” It includes a TRO preventing Google from deleting the data, which the company otherwise had planned to do. (Irony alert.)
The news led ABC 7 in Washington, D.C. to go around and ask people on the street how they felt about Google snooping on their Wi-Fi accounts. One person they asked was a federal judge; if Google comes around his house, it better be packing…
ABC 7 happened across Larry Burns, a Southern District of California judge, who must have been visiting the District. He’s a strong believer in the Second Amendment:
As a federal judge in San Diego, Larry Burns takes lots of precautions when it comes to protecting his home.
“I’m concerned about privacy. We have a gate at our house and it’s fenced… and then I have about six handguns,” said Larry Burns.
The right to privacy may not be in the Constitution, but the right to bear arms is.
ABC 7 showed him that one precaution he can’t take is keeping his home off of Google Street View (as the Borings would attest):
But when we typed in his address, a photo of his home popped right up.
He and his wife wonder what other information might be out there.
Probably a lot. That Internet is a pretty crazy place.
Judge Burns is not alone in his concern about what other information might be out there. The WSJ Law Blog reports that Reps. Ed Markey (D.-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R.-Texas) wrote a letter to the FTC urging it to investigate the matter.
Which company will feel the FTC’s Congressional-commanded wrath first? Google, or Facebook?
Meanwhile, let this be a reminder to you: password protect your Wi-Fi account.
Privacy Concerns Over Google’s Information Collection [ABC 7 News]
Google Feeling Heat From EU Regulators Over Privacy [WSJ Law Blog]
Google hit with class-action lawsuit over Wi-Fi snooping [ComputerWorld]