Google’s Wi-Fi Data Harvest Facing More Probes, Lawsuits

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Cars used to harvest Wi-Fi data in Germany.

Canada has become the latest nation to launch
a formal investigation into Google’s practice of harvesting personal
Wi-Fi data from open wireless networks.

“We have a number of questions about how this collection could have
happened,” Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said in a
statement issued Tuesday. “We’ve determined that an investigation is
the best way to find the answers.”

Canada’s move follows confirmation that a U.S. Federal Trade
Commission investigation of Google is also underway. The advocacy group
Consumer Watchdog requested
the FTC probe on May 17. The agency responded that it was “reviewing”
that request.

before members of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Financial Services and
General Government Subcommittee last week, FTC chairman Jon Leibovitz
acknowledged that his agency is taking a “very, very close look” at
Google’s Wi-Fi data-harvesting practices. U.S. lawmakers who have raised
about the matter include Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine,
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, and Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass.

Canada joins Belgium, Britain, the Czech Republic, France, Germany,
Italy, Spain and Switzerland in asking Google to retain Wi-Fi data
collected in those respective nations. Hong Kong and the Hamburg data
protection supervisor in Germany, meanwhile, have asked to inspect the
data, says Anne-Marie Hayden, spokeswoman for the Canada’s Privacy

“Denmark and Ireland formally asked Google to destroy the data
collected there, and we understand that Austria has placed a temporary
ban on Google Street View cars while it looks into this issue,” says

Google has admitted to collecting some 600 million gigabytes of
personal data transmitted over non-secured wireless networks in more
than 30 nations. The company has stopped collecting such data, and
delivered all of the data gathered so far to a security firm, ISEC
Partners, for
. “We’re working with the relevant authorities to
answer their questions and concerns,” says Google spokesman Jay

In April, Google admitted
to German privacy regulators that vehicles specially-equipped to
systematically shoot photos of street scenes for Google Maps also
carried gear to collect data moving across unencrypted wireless networks
situated inside homes and businesses. The company insisted at the time
that only basic Wi-Fi location data was being collected. But after
Germany requested an audit, Google subsequently disclosed
that it had mistakenly collected personal data, as well.

In addition to widening government probes, Google is now also facing
privacy-violation civil lawsuits
recently filed in Washington D.C., California, Massachusetts and Oregon
over the Wi-Fi data it has already collected.

Like Google, Microsoft dispatches fleets of vehicles, as well as
airplanes, equipped with high-tech cameras and huge digital storage
drives to systematically amass
for Bing Maps. But Microsoft does not collect any
private-user data, says Adam Sohn, a Bing senior director.

Consumer Watchdog
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