News that Google’s Street Car Program collected locations of millions of cell phones, laptops and other Wi-Fi devices from around the globe has raised further privacy concerns about the policies of the corporate Giant.
Google’s Street Car program was ostensibly designed to collect and catalog public Wi-Fi locations but instead the company also recorded the addresses and unique identifiers of computers and other devices using those wireless networks and then made the data publicly available through Google.com until just a few weeks ago.
Sound familiar? It should. This isn’t the first time Google has been caught driving around capturing private information from unsuspecting citizens.
Last year, Google’s Streetview cars captured personal information including passwords from Wi-Fi networks in every home the cars drove past.
The last time this happened, Google claimed it was a “mistake” and blamed a rogue employee. But it seems like there are an awful lot of “mistakes” that result in Google’s acquisition of massive caches of otherwise unobtainable personal data.
CNET.com has been all over this latest incident from the beginning. A June article detailed how Google publishes the estimated locations of millions of iPhones, laptops and Wi-Fi connections, a revelation that led security consultant Ashkan Soltani to condlue that Google made these unique hardware IDs–called MAC addresses–publicly available through a Web interface–for their own purporses.
Unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents. Rather, part of a larger pattern of disregard for privacy.
From collecting and permanently storing every email sent from Gmail account to vacuuming up Facebook information to build Google+, Google’s entire business model seems to threaten and violate the privacy rights of millions of Americans. And perhaps most troubling about all this information is Google’s growing partnership with government including the National Security Agency (NSA).
Google’s growing relationship with the Obama Administration has watchdogs groups asking whether Google has benefited with their political connections with the Obama Administration.
A report by Consumer Watchdog based on records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and interviews, found that Google’s ambitious quest for influence with the government is starting to pay off including:
— Google’s close ties with the Obama White House have raised concerns about possible special treatment or conflicts of interest at the Department of Homeland Security, the US Patent & Trademark Office, the Federal Communications Commission and NASA.
— Officials at both DHS and the FCC have raised pointed concerns about weak privacy protections in Google products and whether Google’s well-documented difficulties with privacy protection could create big problems for federal agencies that use its services.
— A secretive relationship with the National Security Agency. The search giant has a legitimate need to cooperate with the government’s mammoth and secretive code breaking agency in its efforts to defend the integrity of U.S. computer networks. But NSA also has legal power to force Google to hand over the private information of its users. How Google executives handle this potentially conflicted relationship is largely unknown: neither Google nor the NSA are talking.
Congress is exercising their oversight responsibilities by asking questions about Google’s growing privacy violations and connections to the Obama Administration. At a recent hearing on Internet privacy, Google’s practices were front and center. But in the past, Google has been able to escape any real measure of consequence for its behavior. And with Google ramping up its lobby shop, the outcome of these hearings remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: every day that passes without some action on this front means Google collects more and more private data on Americans–with or without their consent.