Google Street View Records Your Personal Data: Concerns Are Real.

May 17, 2010, By Intermaggio

Rumors have been a-swirling recently about Google, the friendly giant, who may have “accidentally” recorded some private data of yours recently. Could the tech giant that everyone loves finally be turning its back on customers? We certainly hope not, but let’s consider the facts.

For those unfamiliar, Google has a nifty little feature in its Maps product called Google Street View- the name is fairly self-explanatory, it lets you see the world from the perspective of a car, giving you a much better idea of the neighborhoods you might be driving through. The images that form street view come from Google Street View cars- special cars designed to record and upload images to the service.

Those cars have more than cameras installed. Turns out, the cars use WiFi triangulation to pinpoint their own locations on the globe, so that an image of your house doesn’t show up where city hall should be. The problem is this: in communicating with WiFi networks to position the streetview images, the cars seem to have accidentally recorded a bit more information than they needed to.

How much more? It’s hard to say- Google has been intentionally vague in describing how much personal information was recorded. What we do know is this: all of the information recorded came from unprotected WiFi networks- so if your network is password protected, you have nothing to worry about.

For those of us using good ‘ole linksys, or who just wanted to share the love and let the neighbors use the network, well, it’s a bit sketchy. Google’s Street View triangulation system works much like channel surfing radio stations for the weather- except that it does it very quickly (about 5 times a second, according to Google), and uses bits of information from each “station” (public WiFi network) to piece together a full report.

So what does it all mean? Well, the chances are very slim that any of your important personal data got through in the .2 seconds Google was downloading your information, and the fact is, even if they saw you buying something from that dirty website you shouldn’t have been on, it was an encrypted transaction, so your credit card numbers are safe.

Google says that it was completely unintentional that they recorded your data, and we tend to believe them- but make the decision for yourself. Are the G-Men still our friends?

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