Google Inc. “Wi-Spy”, Privacy Rights
In 2007, Google deployed cars equipped with digital cameras to capture street view images around the world in 30 different countries. But along with the digital camera, the vehicles were outfitted with off-the-shelf radio equipments and open-source software that enabled them to collect publicly available information on the unsecured Wi-Fi network. As European privacy authorities started investigating, in 2010 Google admitted publicly the capturing of SSID information and MAC addresses, with a reason so-called “location aware” service. The idea was Wi-Fi networks had limited range, the presence of such network acts as a unique geographical landmark. Knowing the combination of the Wi-Fi network in range of their devices allows individuals to pinpoint their approximate location in situations where satellite-based Global Positioning Service (GPS) is either inconvenient or unavailable [ (Benjamin Joffe v. Google Inc. 2012) ]. But later it was learned that they have being collecting more than just identifying information from the Wi-Fi network, so they again acknowledge capturing “fragmentary” payload data. Canadian officials who examined data samples said it was more than fragmentary. They found complete email messages, cookies, chat sessions and login credentials, according to an FCC report. French officials found data related to online dating and pornographic sites, and an email exchange between a man and a woman seeking an extramarital relationship [ (Graham 2013) ]. Google has admitted its mistake, but maintained that the collection wasn't illegal because the data was collected from public locations and broadcast by the victims in plain text, even though it agreed to pay $7 million filed by 37 states and District of Columbia, the episode has being embarrassing were in they repeatedly stated implementation of new procedures to prevent such episode by even posting [ (Securing Wi-Fi Network 2013) ] on its official Blog.
It’s a very serious issue were the privacy rights of an individual are easily violated but also at the same time it’s a concern about the current U.S. Constitution and its amendment for protecting individuals against government invasion of privacy but not an invasion of privacy by other individuals [ (Prof Courtney 2013 Slide, 5) ]. Well, this topic of Google Wi-spy is of much importance for the field of Cyberlaw as the story revolves around the Wiretap Act (ECPA Title I). The 1986 Electronic Communication Privacy Act (ECPA), prohibits any one, including government, from wiretapping without search warrant with probable cause [ (Prof Courtney 2013 Slide, 46) ]. Well, this story interest me a lot, not just because big organization like Google had to pay the price for invading individuals privacy, but at the same time the business they did even for a day with such amount of data captured is expected to be very high. Also as we move further analyzing the step-by-step process of different investigation involving the Google Wi-Spy scandal, we will realize the need for updating the present wiretap law for protecting unencrypted communication.
Well, the story starts, when Google initiated the Street View project in multiple countries collecting street images with digital street view cameras mounted on Cars and Bicycles, but at the same time in mid 2007, it started collecting vast amount of data from unencrypted Wi-Fi network which were unknown to the public or kept hidden. As the European Privacy Authorities started investigating for the first time it came to the knowledge of public, about Google’s Wi-spy activity, On April 23rd 2010, Germany announces that street view vehicle had being collecting data from Wi-Fi networks [ (Schaar 2010) ]. Following the same Google deleted all the data collected in Ireland on May 16th 2010 [ (Eustace, ISEC_letter 2010) ]. Italy, France, Switzerland, UK, Spain, Canada, Hong Kong, Austria and Czech Republic...
Cited: Benjamin Joffe v. Google Inc. California , 2012.
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