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Google had knowledge of Wi-Fi sniffing, claims FCC

Google had knowledge of Wi-Fi sniffing, claims FCC

The FCC's report into Google's Wi-Fi sniffing via Street View cars suggests upper management knew exactly what was going on.

The publication of the US Federal Communication Commission's full report into Google's Street View Wi-Fi sniffing, which the advertising giant had previously attempted to block, has revealed some additional details about the case - including the claim that Google wasn't as ignorant of the activity as it had previously claimed.

Google's Street View cars, which feature 360-degree cameras and GPS equipment - were already the subject of privacy complaints for taking photographs of peoples' houses and gardens, but the news that they were accidentally capturing Wi-Fi traffic proved too much to bear.

Numerous government bodies have investigated the case, but the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has managed to find some additional details missed by others - including the fact that top Google management were aware of the sniffing activity well before the matter became public knowledge.

According to the LA Times, which has seen an unredacted version of the FCC's report into the matter, the Google engineer responsible for coding the Wi-Fi data-grabbing portion of the Street View software told his colleagues and a senior manager exactly what he was doing.

That flies in the face of the company's claims of innocence, blaming the 'rogue' engineer for coding the capabilities and hiding it within the Street View software without telling anyone what he was doing - suggesting the company isn't as innocent as it has previously claimed.

'While we disagree with some of the statements made in the document,' a Google spokesperson told the LA Times of the report, 'we agree with the FCC's conclusion that we did not break the law. We hope that we can now put this matter behind us.'

As Google's statement suggests, the FCC ruled that no law had been broken by the company's activities - but that didn't stop it levying a $25,000 fine against the company for attempting to obstruct the investigation - a charge the company strongly denies.

24 Comments

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greigaitken 30th April 2012, 10:34 Quote
Do they expect anyone to believe this crap? Google is no different to any other big business, generally they all fall between 2-5 / 10 on the ethics scale.
PingCrosby 30th April 2012, 10:39 Quote
Terry the Sheep: Meeeeeeeer?
Me: Thats right Terry!, after helping Grigori with his Poincare' Conjecture malarky and setting him straight on a few matters( obviously if John sold Chris 5 apples at 10p each and then stole them back while he wasn't looking then sold them to Val for 11p each plus 15% interest minus 6.2% investment tax at the base rate of 2.5% he was laughing all the way to Barclays Bank), I went on Chernobyl's got Talent and won!
Terry the Sheep: Meeeeeeeeer!
Me: I know Terry I couldn't believe it either, thay all gave me Three thumbs up
Terry the Sheep: Meeeeeeeeer
mclean007 30th April 2012, 11:01 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by PingCrosby
Terry the Sheep: Meeeeeeeer?
Me: Thats right Terry!, after helping Grigori with his Poincare' Conjecture malarky and setting him straight on a few matters( obviously if John sold Chris 5 apples at 10p each and then stole them back while he wasn't looking then sold them to Val for 11p each plus 15% interest minus 6.2% investment tax at the base rate of 2.5% he was laughing all the way to Barclays Bank), I went on Chernobyl's got Talent and won!
Terry the Sheep: Meeeeeeeeer!
Me: I know Terry I couldn't believe it either, thay all gave me Three thumbs up
Terry the Sheep: Meeeeeeeeer
What on earth are you talking about?!
mclean007 30th April 2012, 11:02 Quote
A $25,000 fine? I'm sure Larry and Sergey will be up at night in cold sweats worrying about how they're going to pay that one.
hyperion 30th April 2012, 11:05 Quote
"Don't be evil" my ass.
steveo_mcg 30th April 2012, 11:30 Quote
Unsecured wifi is detected news at 10!
Gareth Halfacree 30th April 2012, 11:52 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by steveo_mcg
Unsecured wifi is detected news at 10!
Detecting unsecured Wi-Fi is one thing - but Google was capturing and saving *traffic*.
steveo_mcg 30th April 2012, 11:56 Quote
A bit like recording part of telephone call held in public while your taking a video of your child playing? If you want privacy take some basic measures go inside and hold your phone call or put a very simple password on your wifi.

To me its all about intent, just as though you might over hear a very personal conversion in the street your intent isn't to be eaves dropping, following people with a tape recorder changes the nature of the situation.
Gareth Halfacree 30th April 2012, 12:01 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by steveo_mcg
A bit like recording part of telephone call held in public? If you want privacy take some basic measures go inside and hold your phone call or put a very simple password on your wifi.
If I don't lock my door, it doesn't excuse someone coming in and taking my stuff. That's still a crime. I might not be able to claim on my insurance, but I can sure as hell press charges against whoever took the stuff.

Read up on UK (and US) privacy, computer misuse and wiretap laws for more. That, or just read the FCC's report linked to from the article.
steveo_mcg 30th April 2012, 12:07 Quote
Your wifi doesn't respect the boundaries of your property it is broadcast into the public space, you can't play your music with the window open then complain people are listening to it.

Google didn't proverbially walk in to an unlocked house they walked past and heard part of a song.
faugusztin 30th April 2012, 12:14 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Detecting unsecured Wi-Fi is one thing - but Google was capturing and saving *traffic*.

No. They were capturing and analyzing few packets of data going through your wireless network, which probably to surprise of some people contains the network identification. And they need this network identification, so they can give you a rough geolocation instead of using GPS.

If they captured few packets of your unsecured data, it is your own stupidity, and everyone else could do that. If they captured few packets of your WEP secured data, same applies to you. If they captured few packets of your WPA2 secured data, then except the network identification no other data can be used.
Gareth Halfacree 30th April 2012, 12:16 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by steveo_mcg
Your wifi doesn't respect the boundaries of your property it is broadcast into the public space, you can't play your music with the window open then complain people are listening to it.

Google didn't proverbially walk in to an unlocked house they walked past and heard part of a song.
Seriously - read the FCC report.

Also, playing your music where others can hear it is a civil wrong - it's a Public Performance as defined by the Performing Rights Society (PRS) and requires a specific licence. It's never enforced against individuals, but is frequently enforced against businesses - including garages that play the radio when they're fixing cars.

Not that that has anything to do with the matter at hand, but just pointing out that logic and the law do not always go hand-in-hand.
steveo_mcg 30th April 2012, 12:46 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Seriously - read the FCC report.
Tragically I don't have time to read a 25 page legalese document, I rely on you to condense it for me :)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree

Also, playing your music where others can hear it is a civil wrong - it's a Public Performance as defined by the Performing Rights Society (PRS) and requires a specific licence. It's never enforced against individuals, but is frequently enforced against businesses - including garages that play the radio when they're fixing cars.

Not that that has anything to do with the matter at hand, but just pointing out that logic and the law do not always go hand-in-hand.

My point exactly Google has violated the letter of the law but it did not violate the spirit of the law. There was no intent to eavesdrop, wiretap or what ever else they recorded a fragment of a private conversation made in a public arena (the street) for at most a couple of seconds.

This is a storm in a tea cup, if privacy campaigners really want to get het up about something there are much bigger issues with much greater intent to fry.
Flibblebot 30th April 2012, 13:28 Quote
But it's not as if they were just wandering around and happened to hear a snippet of a conversation (albeit a WiFi "conversation") - the issue at hand is that the system was built to actively listen to conversations. It's the difference between accident and intent - and as far as Google is concerned, the intent to listen was there.

I'm guessing that the issue wasn't big enough, and the data sniffed wasn't used for any purpose (as far as we know), to require a fine - but Google's lying about the matter is what gave them the $25k fine. I'm guessing that this could have further ramifications for Google, as it could encourage investigation into Google's storage and use of other private information?
faugusztin 30th April 2012, 13:43 Quote
The intent was to get list of WiFi networks, combined with the current GPS location of the car, which would then allow you, the user to be geolocated without the need for power hungry GPS. The reason why they used this method instead of the official WiFi method is simply because getting list of WiFi networks in standard way is too slow - turn on your your WiFi adapter and watch how it takes sometimes even seconds for some networks to show up. Capturing few packets instead and getting the SSID and ID of the WiFi network is much more simple from technical standpoint.

And the one about the engineer saying his superiors how he intends to do it - we all know was that probably handled :

Employee : "Hey boss, you asked me to add WiFi network enumeration to the Google Street View cars. Well, using standardized methods it is too slow, cars would have to crawl at 20km/h speed all the time. But i came up with an idea - grab the WiFi packets, put them together with GPS location and later extract the network identification from headers. This would allow us to go through the cities at speed limits, without slowing down the traffic. What do you say boss ?"

Boss: "Sure, whatever if it gets the job done".

... some time later, after FCC starts the investigation...

Google CEO: "WTF".
Marvin-HHGTTG 30th April 2012, 13:50 Quote
faugusztin has the point covered here - for all the tin-hat brigade, what would they do with such information otherwise?
Snips 30th April 2012, 14:10 Quote
lol, some Google fanboys really trying to defend this here.

It's an absolute disgrace that management lied when asked if they knew this was happening.
PingCrosby 30th April 2012, 15:18 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by mclean007
Quote:
Originally Posted by PingCrosby
Terry the Sheep: Meeeeeeeer?
Me: Thats right Terry!, after helping Grigori with his Poincare' Conjecture malarky and setting him straight on a few matters( obviously if John sold Chris 5 apples at 10p each and then stole them back while he wasn't looking then sold them to Val for 11p each plus 15% interest minus 6.2% investment tax at the base rate of 2.5% he was laughing all the way to Barclays Bank), I went on Chernobyl's got Talent and won!
Terry the Sheep: Meeeeeeeeer!
Me: I know Terry I couldn't believe it either, thay all gave me Three thumbs up
Terry the Sheep: Meeeeeeeeer
What on earth are you talking about?!

Earth? I'm on earth?
azazel1024 30th April 2012, 16:17 Quote
They were capturing completely unencrypted information. "Bad" sure, but for any resonable interpretation of laws like the wiretapping law and earlier laws, not illegal. Just like if you want to broadcast a radio signal unencrypted and then get pissed off that someone next door was listening in on their FM box.

The tools and know how might not be quite as common as turning on an FM radio, but just about any full fledged computer with a Wifi network card can do it very, very easily and with relatively limited or no knowledge of how to (a simple google search turns up easy step by step directions).

As for Google having wide information about it, that doesn't sound like the case. Brueaucraies are this funny things, just because someone, even a few someones know what is going on doesn't mean most people do, or even higher levels. What is a senior manager in this case? The engineers immediate boss 4 levels down from the CEO? Was it was of the C-grade guys running the show? Even a junior VP? Or are we talking some guy so removed from the leadership of Google that they have their email or phone call passed through at least 2 other people before the CEO is going to catch wind of it?
XXAOSICXX 30th April 2012, 20:39 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by azazel1024
Brueaucraies

I think you just invented a new word.

I'm going to use that "word" in a meeting at work tomorrow...and see what happens :p
enciem 30th April 2012, 23:31 Quote
I'm pretty sure everyone knows I'm constantly looking at pr0n but does this mean literally everyone knows? I'm not sure how I feel about that....oh wait, I don't give a flying...(make it up yourself).

Your information has been shared with anyone who's interested since the dawn of time, it's only the confirmation of that happening that gets people irked.
fluxtatic 1st May 2012, 08:04 Quote
Who cares what the FCC says - they bailed on the investigation when Google was 'uncooperative' and slapped them with a $25k fine. I'm sure it takes more bills than that for Sergey to wipe himself clean after his morning dump.
thehippoz 1st May 2012, 17:55 Quote
sounds like a bunch of people making work for themselves.. I mean it was open- not like they were rolling around with a honeypot broadcasting free internet from the car.. then unsuspecting people were logging into the cars ap and getting monitored

when you go to starbucks, you should understand the bucktooth bandit is more than likely monitoring and filtering everything you do.. he's not being taken to court (not sure if google is but, really this isn't news)
tad2008 1st May 2012, 19:43 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Quote:
Originally Posted by steveo_mcg
A bit like recording part of telephone call held in public? If you want privacy take some basic measures go inside and hold your phone call or put a very simple password on your wifi.
If I don't lock my door, it doesn't excuse someone coming in and taking my stuff. That's still a crime. I might not be able to claim on my insurance, but I can sure as hell press charges against whoever took the stuff.

Read up on UK (and US) privacy, computer misuse and wiretap laws for more. That, or just read the FCC's report linked to from the article.

Taking your stuff would be theft, Google didn't take anything, it was there freely to be picked up and would be the same as someone walking in to your house and writing down what they saw.

Don't forget that even here in the U.K. if you leave your door open that it is considered an invitation and a complete stranger can walk in to your house and although you can ask them to leave they do not have to and using any force against them to do so is also illegal.
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