Google Owns You, But It Was an Accident


In a blog post on the real deal Google blog, Alan Eustace, senior VP of Engineering & Research, admitted that the company has been hoarding information from unprotected wireless networks for years using Google Street View cars. “Quite simply, it was a mistake,” he writes.

Well, sure, oops and all. But what does that mean?

Basically, the Google camera cars might have been storing communication on unprotected networks — like emails and chats — since 2006, because of a programming error.

Google insists:

As soon as we became aware of this problem, we grounded our Street View cars and segregated the data on our network, which we then disconnected to make it inaccessible. We want to delete this data as soon as possible, and are currently reaching out to regulators in the relevant countries about how to quickly dispose of it.

The New York Times, meanwhile, notes the similarities between this snafu and the recent backlash against Facebook “about its shifting privacy guidelines.” But in real talk: the owners of the internet know everything about you and will probably sell it to the highest bidder so they can then sell your life back to you.

More from the Times, which warns that “Google could be accused of intercepting private communications and violating wiretap laws in the United States,” though that seems unlikely:

Mr. Eustace tried to play down the revelation, saying that Google “never used that data in any Google products.” He said that it collected only fragments of data, because the cars were moving constantly and changing channels many times each second. Only when someone was using their unencrypted, nonpassword-protected network was the data collected and stored.

As these stories of privacy breaches grow in frequency, it’s certainly frightening. (What have we been doing ignorantly online all this time?) But it’s also partially inspiring, because these could be the seeds of a privacy revolution, or at least the first step toward more educated users, pushing to control their own data.