Google admits to collecting WiFi payload data by mistake

Google admitted that it has, by mistake, been collecting payload data from open WiFi networks at the same time it collected publicly broadcast SSID information and MAC addresses to provide location information to its Google Maps for mobile.

The search giant says, however, that it has never used any of the data in its Google products. The finding came after the data protection authority (DPA) in Hamburg, Germany asked Google to audit the WiFi data its Street View cars collect for use in its location products. Google said it has typically collected just fragments of payload data since its cars are on the move, someone would need to be using the network as a car passed by and Google's in-car equipment automatically changes channels about five times a second. 

"So how did this happen? Quite simply, it was a mistake. In 2006 an engineer working on an experimental WiFi project wrote a piece of code that sampled all categories of publicly broadcast WiFi data. A year later, when our mobile team started a project to collect basic WiFi network data like SSID information and MAC addresses using Google's Street View cars, they included that code in their software--although the project leaders did not want, and had no intention of using payload data,"  Alan Eustace, Google's senior vice president of Engineering & Research, wrote in the company's blog.

Google said it grounded its Street View cars and segregated the data on its network, which it then disconnected to make it inaccessible. Eustace said the company has decided to stop its Street View cars from collecting WiFi network data altogether.

For more:
- see this Google blog post

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