Views of Your Email from the Street

Google Street View vehicles traveled the world collecting private digital data from behind the curtains and doors of private homes and businesses.

Google Street Views around Lake Champlain
Vermont & New York, USA
Street views are available for the routes in blue
(click here for larger image)

After successfully launching an effort to capture street views from around the globe, Google is saying that it accidentally also captured information that included Wi-Fi passwords and email. Google says it didn’t mean to capture this information and that it did nothing illegal. Google is not evil, right? But how does one launch such a huge and expensive effort and not know all its bells and whistles? Wouldn’t that have been part of the pitch? How does one make a mistake like this, yet within the strict lines of the law? How do the engineers at Google, the best in the world, not discover this “mistake” until it is pointed out to them?

Google Street View Status of Investigations, June 18, 2010
(click here for larger image)

Part of the premise of Google Street Views is that it only shows (and captures) what any person “walking down the street” would see – it merely captures and distributes what is already on public view. Digital images of physical “public spaces” are digitally distributed to a wider public. Now we know more, aside from making what was public more public, Google Street View vehicles traveled the world collecting private digital data from behind the curtains and doors of private homes and businesses. Those cute little buggies with ostrich-necked cameras don’t seem so cute anymore.

If you give Google the benefit of the doubt that they are not interested in violating privacy laws, this question persists: What did they stand to gain from gathering private information from private spaces if it wasn’t to make it public?

References:
http://www.itworld.com/legal/111434/google-street-view-wi-fi-data-included-passwords-and-e-mail

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/22/technology/22google.html

http://epic.org/privacy/streetview/

http://www.google.com/help/maps/streetview/using-street-view.html

“States Ready Joint Probe of Google Data Collection,” The Wall Street Journal, June 22, 2010

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