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Privacy Google Government The Courts United States Wireless Networking Your Rights Online

States Launch Joint Probe of Google Wi-Fi Snooping 134

CWmike writes "As many as 30 states could join an investigation into Google's collection of personal information from unprotected wireless networks, Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal announced today. Google's response was similar to what it said earlier this month: 'It was a mistake for us to include code in our software that collected payload data, but we believe we didn't break any US laws. We're working with the relevant authorities to answer their questions and concerns.' Google already faces investigations by privacy authorities in several European countries, including the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Spain and Italy. In the US, Google faces multiple civil lawsuits, and the company has been asked for more information from several congressmen as a preliminary step to a legislative hearing. Google has asked that the lawsuits be consolidated and moved to a California federal court's jurisdiction."
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States Launch Joint Probe of Google Wi-Fi Snooping

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  • still dont see (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tmack ( 593755 ) on Monday June 21, 2010 @06:42PM (#32647042) Homepage Journal
    Why this is being given such legal scrutiny. Its akin to driving down the street with a tape recorder and parabolic mic, recording whatever conversations people might be having as part of a population density study, and accidentally recording someone in their front yard yelling their cc# into the phone. It should fall under general privacy law: if you dont spend the time/energy to setup encryption of some form, dont expect privacy (same as if you dont try to block peeping toms, or if you go sunbathing nude in your front yard next to the street, dont be surprised to find yourself posted to /b). Even windows warns you now if you try to connect to an unencrypted AP. If anyone should be sued for this, sue the manufacturers that distributed the APs with a default configuration of no encryption and see how well that flies.


  • Problem solved (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bennomatic ( 691188 ) on Monday June 21, 2010 @06:45PM (#32647064) Homepage
    I use WPA on my wifi, so they can't sniff. I do it because there are a lot of people out there who feel that a non-protected wifi link is theirs for the using. If you're worried about Google sniffing, then you should be more worried about people using your wifi to download torrents, bringing your connection under the watchful eyes of the RIAA and MPAA.
  • Google is fucked (Score:4, Insightful)

    by larry bagina ( 561269 ) on Monday June 21, 2010 @06:47PM (#32647078) Journal
    Legal or not, accident or not, there's only two facts that matter:
    • States are desperate for money
    • Google has money

    The state Attorney Generals (Attorney's General for the pedants) can taste the green. They haven't been this rabid since the Big Tobacco lawsuits. I expect Google will make a big donation to "help educate people about identity theft" (read: prop pension plans and make sure state employees and their union masters are happy).

  • Re:Problem solved (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vivian ( 156520 ) on Monday June 21, 2010 @07:03PM (#32647226)

    I use WPA on my wifi, so they can't sniff. I do it because there are a lot of people out there who feel that a non-protected wifi link is theirs for the using.

    The problem is there are some people/organizations who run nodes that ARE free to use - so if you don't want people to use your network uninvited, the simplest thing to do is close the door as you have done. Even the very weakest encryption would be enough to indicate that you do not intend your network to be used publicly. Simply having SSID broadcast turned off with no encryption at all would also indicate you do not intend it to be public, however, if you have your router happily broadcasting it's SSID, with no encryption and transmitting strongly enough to be received by a car driving down the street, well that's basically saying "come use me!"

    Although it is worth investigating exactly what information Google collected and why, that is not what the suit is going to be about - it's going to be a great big money grab by a bunch of lawyers on behalf of a bunch of people who couldn't be bothered to make their wireless networks private, and who lost absolutely nothing at all and were not damaged in any way by Google's actions. (Did Google start using captured credit card details or start spamming some private email address that was captured, or selling any of the private data that was captured other than perhaps the name and location of the node? I think not.)

    Oh and for anyone who whines "oh not everyone is a geek who can understand how to configure a router"
    RTFM! that's what it is for. It really isn't that hard!

  • Re:still dont see (Score:3, Insightful)

    by _Sprocket_ ( 42527 ) on Monday June 21, 2010 @07:07PM (#32647254)

    Why this is being given such legal scrutiny.

    "I say! There's a bandwagon out there and we're not on it!"

    "Are people paying attention to it?"

    "Whole throngs of people."

    "I'll get my hat..."

  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Monday June 21, 2010 @07:23PM (#32647410)

    I thought the line was if you are intentionally broadcasting plaintext traffic that can be picked up by any legal receiver, then you have no expectation of privacy. None of the other examples you gave would reasonably be expected to be picked up by someone outside your hours, but if you read the owners manual for your Wifi access point, you know that unencrypted means anyone can pick it up.

    You have nothing to fear from Google catching a few packets of traffic when they are driving by, but from a real hacker who is searching your streams for passwords, credit card numbers, social security numbers, etc.

  • Re:Why of why... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 21, 2010 @07:24PM (#32647428)

    Not satisfied, Germany demanded Google audit the data they had stored at which point Google fessed up to saving all the payload data.

    Oh, wait. You mean, Google audited the data, discovered the mistake, and then announced it? How else were they supposed to announce it? By warping back in time preceding the demand?

    Do you understand what audit means?

  • Re:still dont see (Score:4, Insightful)

    by schwit1 ( 797399 ) on Monday June 21, 2010 @07:29PM (#32647462)
    How can it be illegal in 'some states'? isn't this the jurisdiction of the FCC?
  • by rtfa-troll ( 1340807 ) on Monday June 21, 2010 @07:56PM (#32647696)

    Well, you go to jail for accidentally killing someone too.

    No; actually you don't. You can go to jail for "negligently" killing someone, but not normally for "accidentally" killing someone. There may be special exceptions where the accident was something that could have been avoided by a specific action you failed to take, but these are basically special case of negligence.

    N.B. I am of course ignoring miscarriages of justice, but if we included those then you could go to jail for not killing someone.

  • Re:Leave it alone (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 21, 2010 @09:25PM (#32648386)

    Don't forget the Data Liberation Front. Google Earth. Sketchup. Android as a viable and open alternative to the iPhone platform. Gmail's crazy high storage limits. Google Voice and expedited Voice accounts for military, then students. Lobbying the government and speaking at federal hearings to emphasize the importance of a free Internet.

    Most companies might have one big pro-consumer initiative every few years, maybe. Google seems to have a new one every quarter or two. It's completely unbelievable. If this happened in a movie, it would be too far-fetched to hold anyone's interest.

    Think about where the Internet would be right now if Google had never existed. Some of these things, a company might come up with at some point, but most of them would never have ever happened. Does anyone realize just how far-fetched Android is?

  • Re:still dont see (Score:4, Insightful)

    by murdocj ( 543661 ) on Monday June 21, 2010 @09:54PM (#32648546)

    For god's sake, the whole "I was walking down the street and happened to intercept unecrypted wifi" argument is utterly ridiculous. No one "happens to intercept" wifi. You have to actively snoop. If you want a better analogy, try "I walked down the street and opened up people's mailboxes and read their letters. But they had it coming to them, they didn't have lockable mailboxes".

    Google screwed up. Period. If they had simply done what they claim they wanted to do, and only recorded header information, this just wouldn't be an issue. If anyone else drove a fleet of vans around intercepting wifi, people on Slashdot would be going nuts, but because it's the cool company, all is forgiven.

  • Re:still dont see (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Monday June 21, 2010 @09:58PM (#32648574) Journal

    Why this is being given such legal scrutiny. Its akin to driving down the street with a tape recorder and parabolic mic

    Actually driving down the street with a tape recorder and a parabolic mic recording conversations should be illegal. If I'm standing on my porch having what I think is a private conversation with someone and someone in a car is recording that conversation with a parabolic mic, it sounds like an invasion of privacy to me. Just because something is done "in public" shouldn't mean that it's meant for public consumption. And if it that private conversation is being used for financial gain, then it's even more egregious.

    Driving by my house and taking a picture is one thing. Driving by my house and recording private conversations is another.

    It's strange that some of the same people who would shit themselves with anger if the government was doing this think it's just peachy if a transnational corporation does it.

  • Re:still dont see (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @06:48AM (#32651114) Journal

    It's more like, "I was walking down the street and happened to overhear the residents yelling loudly from their porches." If you happen to be walking down the street with a wifi-capable device, you might capture some data, too.

    Exactly. The original poster's analogy was correct. It's fine to walk down the street and accidentally overhear a conversation. It's not okay to walk down the street with a tape recorder and a parabolic microphone and record everything that anyone says. The problem isn't the 'interception' of WiFi signals, it's the storing of massive amounts of aggregate data.

We warn the reader in advance that the proof presented here depends on a clever but highly unmotivated trick. -- Howard Anton, "Elementary Linear Algebra"