Google Collected CT Data Over WiFi: AG

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Jeff J Mitchell

Google’s “Street View” cars collected information broadcast over unsecured home and business wireless computer networks in Connecticut and kept the information.

The Attorney General questioned Google about gathering information and said Google might have accessed emails, web browsing data and passwords, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said on Tuesday.

Google called the unauthorized information gathering a software mistake.

"This information does not and was not used to identify any specific individual or household," John C. Burchette, director of state policy for Google, said in the letter to Blumenthal's office. "In addition, we had mistakenly included code in our software that collected payload data (information send over the network) from encrypted networks and never used any payload data in any Google product or service."  

Google recently grounded its entire Street View fleet and ceased all WiFi data collection to address concerns about the practice, Blumenthal said.

Google also acknowledged collecting technical information about personal and business WiFi networks themselves and considered that data to be public information and was needed “improve our location-based services.”

Google told Blumenthal’s office it “believes” it started collecting WiFi data in Connecticut in 2008.

“Google’s acknowledgement that it vacuumed up data from unencrypted wireless computer networks in Connecticut is disturbing and demands additional inquiry,” Blumenthal said. “Google grabbed information -- which could include emails, passwords and web-browsing -- that consumers rightly expect to be private. Google needs to better explain how this practice happened, exactly when, where and why.

“We will consider the legality of Google’s WiFi collection practices. Google’s actions raise troubling and profound questions about privacy and whether laws need to be clarified or changed,” Blumenthal said.

“An unencrypted network is an invitation to snooping, like broadcasting all communications on loudspeakers. Anyone with the right software and equipment can listen in,” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal recommended that consumers change their wireless network passwords from those originally provided by the manufacturer to enhance protections.

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