Google's Wi-Fi snoop nabbed passwords and emails

French inspection


The Wi-Fi traffic collected by Google's world-roving Street View cars included passwords and email, according to a report citing a preliminary study from the French data protection authority.

IDG reports that the French National Commission on Computing and Liberty (CNIL) has examined part of the data, after it was turned over by Google. "It's still too early to say what will happen as a result of this investigation," CNIL told IDG.

"However, we can already state that [...] Google did indeed record e-mail access passwords [and] extracts of the content of email messages."

On May 14, contradicting previous assertions, Google said that its Street View cars had spent three years collecting payload data from unsecured W-Fi network across the globe. Previously, the company had said that in scanning open Wi-Fi networks, the cars were collecting only the SSIDs that identified the networks and MAC addresses that identified particular network hardware, including routers. Google uses this data in products that rely on location data, such as Google Maps.

In admitting it intercepted payloads as well, Google said that it only collected "fragments" of data, adding that its cars "are on the move" and that its in-car Wi-Fi equipment automatically changes channels roughly five times a second. But according to the CNIL – an independent authority that oversees the country's data laws – at least some (very) personal data was captured intact.

Google captured data in thirty different countries. Some countries asked the company to delete the data – and in some cases, it complied – while others have requested that the data be kept for the time being so that the situation could be investigated. On June 4, Google shared the data its cars had collected in France with the CNIL. The CNIL told IDG that it was the first country to receive data from Google. Spain and Germany have also requested the data captured within their borders. ®

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