Google Gobbles Wi-Fi, Germany Wants the Recipe

Bloomberg reports that Germany is demanding to see Google’s Streetview code after learning that ’s vehicles were collecting wireless payload packets.

An :

“We need to see the used software to understand what was really saved,” Johannes Caspar, the data-protection commissioner of Hamburg, said in an interview.

German regulators are investigating how cars Google employed to drive around taking pictures for ended up with from Wi-Fi networks that weren’t password- protected. Google said yesterday it deleted data mistakenly gathered from Wi-Fi networks in Ireland and was reaching out to do the same in other countries.

Meanwhile, Google continues to maintain that this was an accident (there is no evidence otherwise). From a report in the Guardian:

Speaking at Google’s annual Zeitgeist Europe forum yesterday, Schmidt dismissed the description of the discovery as a “crisis” and would not say whether any member of staff had been dismissed over the issue. “What really matters is actual harm,” he said, repeating that the problem involved a small amount of fragmented data that was not used by the firm in any way.

He was backed up by co-founder , who talked of concern over the much more comprehensive data on Google’s logs – which include users’ emails and search history. “There is lots of interest in Google’s logs, but no one can prove any harm [caused by that data], at least not that I’m aware of.”

Because Google is so big and so much a part of almost everyone’s computing activities–how many persons use Google search by default?*–what they do gets attention. I tend to agree with this quotation from the Bloomberg story as regards Google: that this situation results from error and possibly overreach, but not from malice (emphasis added):

I tend to feel some of these things are teething problems, but still Google could end up being restricted over some of the things they do,” said Sam Hart, a media analyst at Charles Stanley in London.

It may be that the “teething problems” are because Google is chewing on things it shouldn’t chew on.

At the same time, far too many computer users are unaware of the simple steps they can take to protect their data. Anything which encourages users to practice secure computing is a good thing.

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*Not me. I switched to Startpage.

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