I do all the time, most recently when a friend heading to the Rockies in her Jeep asked me for trail ideas. Having hiked and camped Rollins Pass many times, I Googled it. I followed the trail from the Moffet Railroad tunnel all the way up to Yankee Doodle Lake. I’ve used it to check future project access and – always being interested in what’s going on down at the beach – I’ve looked at new condos and proximity to the beach; it’s pretty handy.
You can literally walk down the street, anywhere, and never leave the office.
Do you wonder how they get all those pictures in such a seamless manner? They drive down each and every street in one of their funky little robot looking cars with the tripod on top and cameras on every fender. They take the shots; we get a handy little feature on our desk top.
No problem, right?
Well, the Court says big problem.
Google haven’t just been taking pictures, they’ve been coming “inside” your home. How you ask? If you have unencrypted Wi-Fi, in a single drive by they download a payload of data including your email, contents, passwords, phone numbers, banking info, anything that’s on your PC becomes theirs.
Street View was a privacy problem from the get go and on Tuesday Google lost its US Appellate Court appeal.
Google announced the program on May 29, 2007 even though much of it was preloaded and available for viewing.
One day later the Internet zine BoingBoing was first to express concerns over privacy when a lady complained the images were so good her cat could be seen in her living room. In September 2007 Canada complained the images, people’s faces and license plates were too easily recognized.
I have no problem with that, you can’t protect what’s easily seen on an evening walk, but the plot thickened and the data got deeper.
By 2010 Italy, Germany, Hong Kong, England, Switzerland, the snooty French and Austria joined in. Austria went as far as banning Google cars from its streets.
Then it began to leak out just how truly invasive this service was.
Stateside, the fight centered on The Pen/Trap Act, 18 U.S.C. §1030 and the Federal Wiretap Act; it is illegal to “intentionally intercept any wire, oral, or electronic communication.”
At first Google denied they’d collected any data. Pushed further, they admitted to “inadvertently collecting fragments.” But as pressure mounted they finally admitted “in some instances entire emails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords.”
An early FCC investigative report showed that an unnamed software engineer who developed the code, dubbed Engineer Doe “made it clear in October 2006 emails to a Street View project senior manager and project leaders that the code would collect and store personal payload data, which included email and text messages, passwords, Internet usage history, and other personal information.
“In addition, the FCC found that the project’s leaders had forwarded Engineer Doe’s email to the rest of the Street View team. With this knowledge, the Street View team collected approximately 200 gigabytes of payload data from January 2008 to April 2010 in the U.S. alone.”
That forced a 2010 apology from Google’s Senior VP of Engineering, Alan Eustace, in which he stated they had inadvertently – there’s that word again – gathered sensitive information with its Street View cars and stated they would implement three changes to prevent future incidents.
The “plan” was typical corporate damage control BS and included training employees in security awareness, providing them guidance in collecting and handling data and, lastly, adding new internal compliance policies that would document how data is handled and institute a “regular review” by managers and an independent audit team.
He went on to state Google “failed badly” in gathering the data using Street View cars.
Google then settled a $7 million lawsuit with 37 States and DC.
Failed badly: You buy that?
Google knows exactly what it was doing and always has. No one I can think of in the private sector collects more demographic psychographic information on their customers than Google.
We know it, but we all use it every day.
Google has held all along they’ve done nothing wrong; they just captured signals in the air, available to anyone, same as tuning in to 98.9 FM on your radio.
Judge Jay S. Bybee’s opinion was different, saying, “Wi-Fi transmissions are not readily accessible to the general public because most of the general public lacks the expertise to intercept and decode payload data transmitted over a Wi-Fi network.
“Even if it is commonplace for members of the general public to connect to a neighbor’s unencrypted Wi-Fi network, members of the general public do not typically mistakenly intercept, store, and decode data transmitted by other devices on the network.”
And with that, Google lost its appeal giving the go ahead for privacy lawsuits against them. Trust me, this is going to be huge, I don’t care how lawyered up Google is. As more and more details creep out public pressure on them is going to be enormous.
When handed the loss Google said, “We are disappointed in the Ninth Circuit’s decision and are considering our next steps.”
I bet they are.
Maybe its next step could be to stop stealing people’s data.
As of 2012, investigations have gone forward in at least 12 countries and 9 countries have found Google guilty of violating their laws. Despite its admissions and the FCC’s findings, Google still maintains that it did not break the law in any way.
You think there’s any privacy anywhere in anything we do? This could only get better by seeing a full blown NSA/Google partnership – that’s pretty much all that’s missing from this story.
The real question is; will this change a single thing we do?