German data protection authorities asked Google to audit the WiFi data that Google’s Street View cars collect for use in location-based products like Google Maps for mobile, which enables people to find local restaurants or get directions.  After an audit Google had to admit that it harvested data from wireless networks not secured by passwords.  Google stated: “It’s now clear that we have been mistakenly collecting samples of payload data from open (i.e. non-password-protected) WiFi networks, even though we never used that data in any Google products.   Google blamed a programming error and apologized, grounding the vehicles temporarily and announcing that it would stop collecting all WiFi data. “

It is quite easy to blame a simple mistake on programming.  Programmers generally do not program functions unless asked to do so.  In any event intent or not, it has always been Google’s way to test the tolerance level of the data protection authorities. Google’s latest practices are now under investigation by the FTC, the UK and German data protection authorities.  Source:  Financial Times and Google

BIIA Newsletter May II – 2010 Issue