Network Computing is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Google Wi-Fi Breach Spurs Calls For Investigation

Following reports of a privacy breach related to Google Street View, lawmakers in the United States and Europe are calling for an investigation into the search giant's collection of private data from homes' Wi-Fi networks.

Google last Friday said it had mistakenly collected data sent over Wi-Fi networks using its Street View cars. The company had previously said that while its Street View cars collected publicly broadcast Wi-Fi network names and MAC addresses from Wi-Fi routers as the vehicles drove about snapping pictures, no "payload data" -- the packets of data being transmitted over open Wi-Fi networks -- was collected.

At the company's annual developer conference Wednesday, Google co-founder Sergey Brin commented bluntly, "We screwed up," he said. "I'm not going to make any excuses about it."

In the U.S., Representatives Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) wrote to the Federal Trade Commission requesting an investigation into the data collected, who accessed the information and how that could have harmed consumers.

"Do Google's data collection practices with respect to Wi-Fi networks violate the public's reasonable expectation of privacy? Did Google collect passwords associated with Internet usage by consumers?" they asked in their letter. "Do Google's actions form the basis of an unfair or deceptive act or practice that constitutes harm to consumers?"

In Europe, the Hamburg Prosecutor's Office has launched an investigation to determine whether Google broke data protection laws. It could take up to two weeks to decide whether to file charges, said Wilhelm Moellers, a spokesman at the prosecutor's office, told the news agency DAPD.

"The tapping of data is believed to have taken place over unsecured Wi-Fi networks in connection with Street View [activity]," said Moellers. "We will above all have to clarify whether the offense was deliberate."

Across the English Channel, Britain's Information Commissioner's Office called on Google to destroy the data it collected. And the Czech Office for Personal Data Protection is investigating Google for "failing to meet necessary requirements to collect data used for Street View," according to the Associated Press.

Google explained that the breach was "a mistake."

Alan Eustace, Google's senior vice president of Engineering & Research, wrote an explanation of the "mistake" in the company's blog: "In 2006 an engineer working on an experimental Wi-Fi project wrote a piece of code that sampled all categories of publicly broadcast Wi-Fi data. A year later, when our mobile team started a project to collect basic Wi-Fi 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."