Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said today that Google has acknowledged to his office that its “Street View” cars in Connecticut collected data, which could include emails, web browsing and passwords, broadcast over unsecured home and business wireless computer networks and kept the information.
Google called the unauthorized information gathering a software mistake. It said the data has been secured and was not used “in any Google service or product.” The company said that it recently grounded its entire Street View fleet and ceased all WiFi data collection to address concerns about the practice.
The company also acknowledged collecting technical information about personal and business WiFi networks themselves, saying it considered that data to be public information. The data includes information on radio signals broadcast by wireless networks and the unique address of computers and other devices they serve. Google said it needs the data to “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.
“My office is carefully considering Google’s answers and will seek additional information. Key questions include how Google learned that its software was gathering unencrypted data and why the company kept the information.
“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.
“I urge consumers to consider encrypting their wireless computer networks. An unencrypted network is an invitation to snooping, like broadcasting all communications on loudspeakers. Anyone with the right software and equipment can listen in.”
Google said that it will provide as soon as later this week additional information identifying Connecticut towns and cities in which it collected WiFi data and the number of networks from which it gathered information.
Blumenthal said that consumers should change their wireless network passwords from those originally provided by the manufacturer to enhance protections.