Google Admits to Snooping on Texans' Unprotected Wireless Networks

Categories: Technology

Turns out, those camera-mounted compact cars Google dispatches to prowl America's streets haven't just been collecting the panoramic Street View images that help make its maps feature so incredibly useful. Nope. As the search giant admitted yesterday, those cars have been gathering email addresses, search histories and other personal information from unprotected wireless networks.

This revelation was trumpeted Tuesday by Attorney General Greg Abbott, who also announced that Google has agreed to settle this fairly blatant violation of privacy for $7 million. That sum is somewhat less impressive when one considers it will be divided between Texas and the 37 other states (D.C. included) that were investigating the practice -- or if you consider had $50 billion in revenues in 2012.

More significant is Google's pledge to destroy the data it's collected, stop using Street View vehicles to farm personal data without consent, and develop a public service alerting people to the wisdom of encrypting their wireless networks.

Google, according to Abbott's press release, at first denied that its vehicles were collecting anything but images before admitting that they were, in fact, equipped with data collection devices that scanned and stored payload data from wireless networks. That such data was collected was a mistake.

"We work hard to get privacy right at Google," a Google spokesman told the Wall Street Journal. "But in this case we didn't, which is why we quickly tightened up our systems to address the issue. "The project leaders never wanted this data, and didn't use it or even look at it."

The company certainly couldn't have looked at America, glanced at the millions of unprotected wireless networks and made a conscious decision to aggregate that data to gain a competitive edge. That would be sneaky, evil even, and we all know that Google can't do anything evil.

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ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Google is a very scary company.  Why should our own government spy on us when they can use the data from a private company?

I wish I could block that link to google analytics that I see when I am loading a web page.  Any suggestions?

scottindallas topcommenter

They got everything, and they were looking for it.  This story is 6-12 mos old.  It's nearly impossible to collect and record data that you don't intend to.  They claim it was accidental, that's a blatant lie

Todd Kent
Todd Kent

Wow, that's surprising! Wait, no it's not.


Hopefully this will help people realize that they shouldn't leave their wifi open for the world to see.


Abbott must have gotten info that Obama owns a lot of Google stock.

mavdog topcommenter

"do no harm" and "don't be evil". yeah, right.

this transgression is just one in a long list of actions google is doing to gather information on everyone who touches one of their products. it is clear that everyone should be very, very wary of this company.

I avoid using their search engine, and will never, ever use chrome. google should not be trusted.

James080 topcommenter

That bytes.

ruddski topcommenter

The gov't really hit them hard. Reminds me of the $0.32 fine I got for 50 in a school zone. It helps to be friends with Presidente El Maximo, I guess.


Believe it or not, I have 2 WiFi access points in my home. One is for things like Roku boxes, the Blu-Ray player and other entertainment devices. It is encrypted and the password doesn't really change. But, good luck doing anything but viewing things like Netflix on it. The other has strong encryption on it, The access point name and password change frequently. This is what all other browsing is done on. 

I've advised numerous people to change their wifi access names and passwords frequently. Yet, when I go visit them a year or more later, they are still using the default name and password that came with their wifi access hardware. I've then shown them how many people are using that access point to do who knows what and pointed out that this means it is possible for someone who knows what they are doing to either see everything they are doing on the web and/or just be malicious and lock them out of their internet access.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

PS: I wonder what Google's response would be if I were to park a vehicle with the appropriate equipment to gather all EM signals emanating from their facilities?


@Tim.Covington solid advice. I think it's odd when even coffee shops or whatever have open, password-free access to their wifi. 

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