Posted in Blog Archive

Posted by abeodbart May 31, 2010 at 4:38 pm


“Google has mapped every wireless network in Britain in order to use the information for commercial purposes, it has emerged. Every WiFi wireless router – the device that links most computer owners to the internet – in every home has been entered into a Google database. The information was collected by radio aerials on their Street View cars, which have now photographed almost every home in the country. The data is then used on Google’s Maps for Mobile application to locate mobile phones such as iPhones in order for users to access information relevant to the area such as restaurants, cinemas, theatres, shops and hotels.

The project had remained secret until an inquiry in Germany earlier this month in which Google was forced to admit that it “mistakenly” downloaded data packets, which may have included fragments of emails and other data, from unsecured wireless networks where they were not protected by a password. Google points out that other companies have already mapped wireless networks, notably a company called Skyhook Wireless which has a contract with Apple, manufacturers of the iPhone.

Google say the information, which lists the networks’ MAC (Media Access Control) address and SSID (Service Set-ID) number, but not their house number, is publicly available because the wireless network signals extend beyond the property in which they are located. Google has now suspended the use of Street View cars across the world – but their work in Britain is already complete. They said last week that they had not notified data protection authorities because “we did not think it was necessary” but they added: “It’s clear with hindsight that greater transparency would have been better.””

Read more at The Telegraph

May 31, 2010 at 4:40 pm
Steve says:

Public outrage at publicly available data being made publicly available!

May 31, 2010 at 4:41 pm
cubehouse says:

That is excellent in my opinion!
That means you can get a really accurate GPS reading instantly if you’re near a couple wifi spots. Triangulate the signal strengths instead of the GPS satellites and you have instant location information, rather than waiting 60 seconds of so for a GPS to warm up.

May 31, 2010 at 4:48 pm
adam says:

@Steve: have to agree with what you say there entirely, made me chuckle

more google bashing

May 31, 2010 at 4:48 pm
Siddif says:

I think the outrage is more the fact that its Google and that they didn’t announce this even in incredibly small fine print.

Im all for it if its just public info that improves local GPS (my location lists me as ANYWHERE in my town) though saying that i doubt google got round to my area, we still have places where theres no mobile signal…

May 31, 2010 at 4:54 pm
Siddif says:

also RE my comment. i checked google we have STreet view for some of the town (not my street) but still no satellite view for any of the actual town. Strikes me as odd

May 31, 2010 at 4:59 pm
Glenn says:

People need to be educated not to broadcast unencrypted data to everyone in range and then cry foul when somebody listens. It’s the technological equivalent on Dom Jolly’s “I’m on a ” mobile phone character complaining that people are listening in to what he says.

I wrote a blog post on this in detail at

May 31, 2010 at 5:06 pm
Ben Lovell says:

The Telegraph really are going down the gutter. They’ve not done anything wrong (in this country) as all this information is freely availble, and has been collected by other companies before in order for location services on devices like the iPod touch, which doesn’t have GPS. The actions in Germany are more questionable, but that’s not what The Telegraph chose to get needlessly outraged about.

May 31, 2010 at 5:20 pm
Cory R says:

You know, I really want to be condescending and yell out “you are broadcasting this! why would anybody expect the information to be private?” I can’t do it though.

What if instead they had cataloged every license plate they encountered and made a searchable database? There’s a good chance many of these license plates would be on cars parked in a driveway. So now, if somebody sees your car, they can google the license plate number, and there is a decent chance they will find out where you live. Does that bother you? It’s all publicly available information that you made available by having your vehicle visible from the street.

May 31, 2010 at 5:20 pm
Raymond says:

Why is there a Dutch car in the picture? When we are talking about the UK? ;)

May 31, 2010 at 5:31 pm
roz says:

all our brains are belong to them! :0

May 31, 2010 at 5:37 pm
ricky b says:

It just winds me up that they have actually collected this information.

I work in IT, so naturally my network is locked down, but for the thing to work, you have to be able to see it’s MAC address, and yes, anyone could see this. The bit that winds me up is they’re using this for their own gain, and didn’t even think to consult me and ask if I mind people sniffing my network!

It’s my kit, for me to use, not you Google!

May 31, 2010 at 5:53 pm
Dr Al says:

Cory R’s argument makes complete sense. A cleverly illustrated point.

May 31, 2010 at 6:28 pm
roz says:

let me take this opportunity to join google in wishing all us yanks a happy memorial day. :)

May 31, 2010 at 6:38 pm
Martin says:

I notice that many journalists fail to get excited by the awesomeness that Google has also rolled out and rather focus on the negatives as usual. I was dismayed to see that the beta SSL search was barely a blip on the radar, whereas this “privacy breach” was front page news in many technology sections, even though Google had made it’s stance on the collection quite clear and what it is doing about it.

This is common. The news loves to focus on the bad rather than the good unless it’s a slow news day, in which case they show squirrels on surfboards. Sadly most readers will just see “Google is stealing our privacy” rather than seeing the details for what they are.

Google’s position on the situation is here. :

May 31, 2010 at 6:39 pm
Jeff C says:

Would you pick up a walkie-talkie, press the transmit button and then say “Hello, my name is yyyyy and I live at xxxx and right now I’m downloading a stack of MP3s and porn!”.. no? So why do you think using WiFi is any less public? Ok, so you can encrypt it to a degree but I only have to switch on my laptop to see at least 10 or 15 wireless networks on my road and over half of them use their name or house number as the SSID – which leads me to think that most people couldn’t care less who knows whether they have a wireless network or not.

At the end of the day virtually every router has at least four hard-wired ethernet ports at the back so if you have an issue with someone “listening” to your radio broadcasts then use a bit of wire instead.

May 31, 2010 at 7:55 pm
nigel says:

The argument that the info is publicly available and therefore belongs to anyone is not good enough i’m afraid. ISP’s dont educate users when they install routers that they should and CAN turn off their broadcast let alone explain what an SSID is. It’s has to be an out and out lie that they though they wouldn’t need to tell anyone about this. There are massive privacy implications here that Google Inc must have been aware of but obviously made the decision to do it anyway and keep it under wraps. There should be massive fines doled out to Google from Brussels for this!

May 31, 2010 at 10:03 pm
James M says:

According to a BBC interview with Peter Barron, Google’s head of communications ( the whole thing was a mistake on the part of Google (no bad intentions). Whether or not we can believe that is another point. Google says that it was “unintentional code” that was “left in by an engineer” essentially by accident… Cynics like myself say “yeah right”

May 31, 2010 at 10:11 pm
Dan says:

It should be illegal to have an unsecured access point, if your data is made public, that’s fair game.

If I paint my credit card details onto the side of buildings, it would be a little naive of me to complain when somebody notes them down.

June 1, 2010 at 11:40 am
JayKay says:

How come my GPS is still shite where I live?!


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