Google Street View and Data Theft
I’m sure you’ve used Google Street View, and you know it is based on their cars driving down the road taking pictures and using GPS to create their images. But did you know their innocent looking Street View cars could also be snatching up personal information about you as they drive down the road? This is true if you have unsecured wi-fi in your home or you are connected to a wi-fi hotspot when the cars make their way down the road. In the UK just a few years ago Google came under fire from the Office of Information Commissioner (ICO) when it was discovered Google had collected user names, passwords, medical information, telephone numbers, records of internet chats, and data from other sites from unsecured wi-fi networks. Google claimed this action was “just a mistake” when asked about it during the investigation.
While I don’t think Google is evil as some blogs claim (it is a very useful tool when doing research and my go to search engine) my big question is why on earth did they find it necessary to collect this data in the first place? If it was just a mistake then why do their Street View cars have this ability at all?
According to a US investigation, a company software designer developed this ability with warnings of possible privacy issues. Luckily for Google the 2010 UK investigation ended with just a slap on the wrist. Google was allowed to destroy the data on its own without any repercussions. According to investigators with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the ICO spent only three hours in 2010 examining a report prepared by Google before reaching its decision to let the company destroy the data it collected.
This year the ICO is reopening the investigation and has sent Google a detailed inquiry about the data collection. The ICO is demanding to know who at Google knew about the data theft ability and wants the audit trail for examination. If found guilty, the search engine giant could face a fine of up to £500,000. But in Google’s favor most of the data was collected in 2010, and at that time the maximum penalty was a fine of only £5,000. This could be a loophole which could save the company from paying the greater fine.
Data theft is real and not always done by hackers or identity thieves. One way to secure your personal data and your internet use is to make sure your wi-fi connection is secure. You can do this by enabling the password protection option on your wireless network. Not only will this keep your neighbors from piggybacking on your wi-fi connection, but it will make it much more difficult for anyone to tap into your wi-fi and steal your personal information.
Why Google found it necessary to collect the data, we may never know. But you need to be smart and protect yourself. Always use a secure wi-fi connection, and for an extra measure of security use a VPN. A VPN creates a safe and secure connection that is almost impossible to tap into. Even if someone does tap into your network, your data will be encrypted and useless to them. Like I always tell you, be smart and be safe about your internet usage.