Privacy commissioner: Google Street View cars have been collecting Canadians’ personal data via Wi-Fi networks

Privacy commissioner: Google Street View cars have been collecting Canadians’ personal data via Wi-Fi networks

Google Street View cars have been taking more than just pictures (Image: Byrion Smith) 

Turns out those adorable Google Street View cars that have been driving around Canadian cities haven’t just been taking photos. The vehicles have also been programmed to map open Wi-Fi spots, like, say, if somebody left their private network unsecured. According to Canada’s privacy commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, the cars just hoovered up personal data this past spring.

The Toronto Star reports:

An investigation by Stoddart’s office found complete emails, addresses, usernames and passwords. Even a list that provided the names of people suffering from certain medical conditions was collected.

“This incident was a serious violation of Canadians’ privacy rights,” she said in a statement.

The breach occurred because a software engineer did not forward programming code he had written in 2006 to a Google lawyer to review it for privacy implications. That code captured the content of communications over unencrypted networks and was a part of software designed to collect information for the mapping service about locations of public Wi-Fi signals.

Despite this pretty massive breach of privacy, Google will not be prosecuted for its mistakes. The company acknowledges it was a goof, is co-operating with investigations, and says it will delete the data it collected after the investigations are complete.

That wraps things up in a nice little package, but can’t we find a more sinister explanation? Maybe the privacy commissioner just really, really wants one of those robot cars that Google recently announced. Lord knows we do.

• Google accidentally mapped much more than addresses, says privacy boss [Toronto Star]
• Preliminary Letter of Findings [Privacy Commissioner of Canada]
Google ditches all Street View Wi-Fi scanning [CNET]
• Google snooping earns reproach [Vancouver Sun]
• Google Street View broke Canada’s privacy law with Wi-Fi capture [Guardian UK]