NORMAN — Perhaps you’ve heard of the recent controversy involving Google and their Google Street View project. It seems they have been grabbing data from wireless networks without permission. Is Google guilty of stealing? Read on and decide for yourself.
If you’ve never heard of Google Street View, read my August 2008 column titled, “Google Street View plunders our town,” which may be found on my website.
The current Google Street View controversy centers around the fact that, for the past three years, not only has Google been driving around our town photographing our homes and posting the pictures on the Internet, they have also been gathering information from our wireless networks. It seems that Google is not satisfied to merely post pictures of our homes on the Internet; they also want to let the world know whether or not our homes are using wireless networks.
Of course, Google says that its wireless network data-gathering activities were harmless and “inadvertent,” and that they only collected data from insecure, unencrypted wireless networks.
That all sounds nice, but consider this: in order for me to collect data from a wireless network, unencrypted or not, I have to tell my computer to search for available wireless networks, select the wireless network of my choice and tell my computer to “connect.” None of this happens “inadvertently,” or by accident. Deliberate actions are required.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is currently pooling the resources of 30 states to determine exactly what data was collected by Google, and to decide if Google’s activities were illegal.
“Street View cannot mean Complete View — invading home and business computer networks and vacuuming up personal information and communications,” Blumenthal said. “Consumers have a right and a need to know what personal information — which could include e-mails, web browsing and passwords — Google may have collected, how and why.” Investigations are also being conducted in Germany and Australia.
Unsecured wireless networks are dangerous on many different levels. If your wireless network requires a password before it grants access to potential users, and it uses WPA2 encryption, then you’re probably in good shape. Anything less is an invitation to criminal exploitation.
Recent months have seen numerous instances of wireless network owners being held liable for the activities of unknown people connected to their networks. How would you like it if someone was downloading child pornography using your unsecured wireless network and the police showed up on your doorstep to investigate? Would it bother you if someone was hiding behind your wireless network to distribute spam emails or bootleg software? These things happen every day, and courts are starting to rule that the owners of unsecured wireless networks have no expectation of privacy. In other words, if you lose private information because you are too ignorant or lazy to secure your network, well, too bad for you.
Whether or not Google will be penalized for its activities remains to be seen. The situation should serve, though, as a wake-up call to secure your wireless networks and secure them today.
Dave Moore has been repairing computers in Norman since 1984, when he borrowed $1,200 to buy a Commodore 64 system. He can be reached at 919-9901 or at www.davemoorecomputers.com