Street View under fire for Wi-Fi hotspot snooping

23 Apr 2010
street view shot

Google's Street View car has come under fire for mapping people's private WLAN networks

Google’s Street View car has come under fire collecting data on private Wi-Fi networks.

As well as taking photographs for Google Map, the Street View car is also collecting users’ unique MAC (Media Access Control) addresses. This information could be potentially used by services such as Twitter so that it can identify where a tweet has come from.

Wi-Fi location data is used by thousands of applications on smartphones, by services like Twitter and browsers such as Firefox as one of the ways in which location can be determined and used to deliver location-relevant services

The practice was discovered in Germany by the country’s Federal Data Protection Commissioner Peter Schaar, who said he was “horrified” Google was doing this “without the knowledge of third parties”.

He also called on Google to stop collecting Wi-Fi data and to delete “previously unlawfully collected personal data”, according to German news service ARD.

A spokesperson for Google said this practice was widely used by many companies for location-based services, includinh Skyhook, which has been mapping Wi-Fi hotspot data and WLAN networks since 2003.

"Today, geolocation services are an increasingly popular part of the web,” Google said in a statement. “Wi-Fi location data is used by thousands of applications on smartphones, by services like Twitter and browsers such as Firefox as one of the ways in which location can be determined and used to deliver location-relevant services (such as bus times, local restaurants, social network posts etc).

“Wi-Fi location information is by its very nature publicly broadcast and collecting it for geolocation purposes is not new or unique to Google. Such information has been collected by companies for years, and many other internet companies are using exactly the same information collected by different providers."

Germany has previously attacked Google over its Street View car and for the level of data it collects through users’ accounts. The car has been mapping Germany for the past few years, but Street View is still unavailable in the country. Google says it hopes to release the service in Germany later this year.

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