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Home > Focus > Google and Facebook back in the news

Google and Facebook back in the news

di Jonathan Hankins [1], 24 Maggio 2010

Once more this week various newspapers and also the BBC [2] have run critical reports regarding both Google and Facebook's record on respecting privacy.

Last Friday Google were forced to admit that they had been collecting information that had been sent over unsecured wireless networks during its photographing of areas for its street view service. The problem came to light when The Data Protection Agency in Hamburg Germany asked to audit wi-fi data collected during work carried out within the street view project.

As part of this project Google sends out a fleet of cars that have a camera system enabling them to take 360 degree images of spaces, but the cars were apparently also equipped with wi-fi data collecting systems that are used to collect publicly broadcast SSID information and Mac addresses that could help users when using Google's location services.

Google were forced to admit however that their cars had also been collecting snippets of e mails and other pieces of information sent through the aforesaid wi-fi systems.

On the official Google blog [3] Alan Eustace, Senior VP of Engineering & Research stated that this data had been collected by mistake. "In 2006 an engineer working on an experimental WiFi project wrote a piece of code that sampled all categories of publicly broadcast WiFi data. A year later, when our mobile team started a project to collect basic WiFi network data like SSID information and MAC addresses using Google's Street View cars, they included that code in their software".

Google has already started to delete the information that they accidentally collected but as a report in the Financial Times [4] claims that this confession contradicts a denial made last month about their data collection practices.

In a follow up article [5] the FT goes on to suggest that Google may have in fact broken privacy laws in both the USA and across Europe and could face legal action regarding this problem, but also suggests that on a positive note this bad press could help in the development of privacy laws in the US.

The FT article also makes reference to Facebook and its recent privacy problems. Facebook's problems stem from recent changes in their default privacy settings and the impression that these changes are aimed at users making more of their personal information public, but arguably not fully informing them of this fact. The Insidefacebook blog [6] gives an extensive analysis of all the recent changes and an interpretation of their real (or supposed) threats to privacy.

The issue of default settings is something I will touch upon in my next posting in which I will take a look at the work of Israeli/American academic and author Dan Ariely's work.

As mentioned in one of my previous posts [7] the argument of data protection and privacy is never far away from that of data collection and storage, and as the two best known names, Google and Facebook are often singled out for particular criticism. I would argue though that these problems are widespread. Some years ago we talked about supermarkets keeping a record of our purchases through our credit cards, today I can look at my mother's house on Google maps and see that she has left the back door open (and assume that she probably does it habitually). The first merely a problem of data collection but the second case offering information to the world that may be detrimental to my mother's well being.

After concerns were raised by several European governments the Daily Telegraph reports [8] that EU data privacy regulators have recently ruled that Google must warn people that their street is about to be filmed and broadcast to the world. Google does already publish this data on its website although this seems a little lame to me, the local paper would have been more effective and my mum could have locked the door and washed the car.

Smile mum you're on the web.

(photo: Google Camera Car [9] - by Jon Delorey from Flickr)

Mostra/Nascondi i link citati nell'articolo

Link citati nell'articolo:

  1. 1] /schedabiografica/Jonathan Hankins
  2. 2] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8684110.stm
  3. 3] http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/05/wifi-data-collection-update.html
  4. 4] http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/8a23b394-5fab-11df-a670-00144feab49a,dwp_uuid=adc119e2-003b-11df-8626-00144feabdc0.html
  5. 5] http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/254ff5b6-61e2-11df-998c-00144feab49a.html
  6. 6] http://www.insidefacebook.com/2010/05/11/analysis-some-facebook-privacy-issues-are-real-some-are-not/
  7. 7] /it/rassegna/2010/03/the_problem_with_social_networ.html
  8. 8] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/7322309/Googles-EU-warning-over-Street-View-privacy.html
  9. 9] http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonsphotos/3104973693/
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cc - photo by Jon Delorey from Flickr
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