UK and Germany question the data collected by Google Street View

By EDRi · May 5, 2010

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: [Deutschland und Gro├čbritannien stellen Datensammlung durch Google Street View in Frage | http://www.unwatched.org/node/1905]

As Google’s Street View service continue to be a controversial topic
especially in Europe, Google has tried to clarify some issues about the data
collected by means of its cars and the way it is used.

In February 2010, German officials threatened to take action against Google
and, more recently, German data protection commissioner Peter Schaar was
quoted to have stated he was “horrified” by the amount and type of data
gathered by Google and demanded that the Wi-Fi database be deleted.

Germany’s reaction drew the attention of the Information Commissioner Office
(ICO), the UK’s privacy watchdog. The ICO spokeswoman said British
regulators were interested in how the data collected was processed and used
by Google.

One of the main issues seems to be that Google is collecting Wi-Fi related
data from people’s routers as the cars drive on the streets taking
photographs for Google Maps. Street View cars collect MAC (media access
control) addresses and SSIDs (service set identifiers). The German officials
consider that this type of data collection is illegal in Germany and ICO
wants assurances and details related to this practice.

On 27 April 2010, Google’s global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer explained
in a blog post that Google’s Street View cars were gathering information in
three categories: photos of the street, WiFi network information, and 3D
building imagery. In a letter also sent on 27 April to ICO and several other
data protection agencies, Google wrote that it collected SSID and MAC
information on routers that broadcast the names publicly and that
information was accessible by anyone walking down the street with a
WiFi-compatible device. The company insists that this type of information is
public and that there are several other services that gather the same
information, sometimes even for longer periods of time.

“This can be done without any intrusion into the privacy of a Wi-Fi network.
(…..) We only use information that is publicly broadcast. It doesn’t
involve accessing the network to send or receive data,” stated Fleischer.

The letter emphasized the fact that Goggle “never collects the content of
any communications” from people’s Wi-Fi transmissions. “In addition, the
operator of the access point can choose to restrict the SSID from broadcast,
and in many cases this will mean that the SSID is not received,” says the
letter.

Google goes transparent on Street View data collection (28.04.2010)
http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2010/04/google-talks-street-view-wifi-collection-details.ars

Data collected by Google cars (27.04.2010)
http://googlepolicyeurope.blogspot.com/2010/04/data-collected-by-google-cars.html

UK data watchdog to quiz Google on Streetview Wi-Fi database (26.04.2010)
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/04/26/google_wifi_ico/

Google explains why Street View cars record Wi-Fi data (28.04.2010)
http://www.zdnet.co.uk/news/mobile-apps/2010/04/28/google-explains-why-street-view-cars-record-wi-fi-data-40088799/

EDRi-gram: Article 29: Reduce the storing period of Google Street View’s images
(10.03.2010)
http://www.edri.org/edrigram/number8.5/article-29-wp-google-street-view