Google Street View Illegally Harvests WiFi Data - Again

Thursday, January 06, 2011



Google has once again been caught illegally collecting private data from unsecured WiFi networks, this time in South Korea.

An official with the National Police Agency said that decrypted hard drives seized from Google last year contained private emails and text messages harvested by their Street View survey vehicles.

"As soon as we realized what had happened, we stopped collecting all Wi-Fi data from our Street View cars and immediately informed the authorities... We have been cooperating with the Korean Communications Commission and the police, and will continue to do so. Our ultimate objective remains to delete the data consistent with our legal obligations and in consultation with the appropriate authorities," a Google representative stated.

South Korean police said they plan to file criminal charges after they determine which company officials to hold responsible, which has the executives of the South Korean unit pointing fingers at the home office in the United States.

Google has previously come under fire for similar activity in several countries, the United States.

In October of 2010, it was reported that the Czech republic had banned further Google Street View surveys, officials in Germany were seeking an option for citizens to request exclusion, and France had opened an investigation.

It was also reported that Connecticut's Attorney General Richard Blumenthal was forming a coalition of State's Attorneys General to investigate violations of privacy related to Google Street View surveys, including collecting information from WiFi networks.


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Andrew Baker Why wouldn't they check all the countries where this was occurring once the first incident happened? Granted, the report is from "last year", but that doesn't make it clear if it happened on Dec 30, or Aug 12.

Anthony M. Freed Makes one wonder about their insistence that the occurrences were accidental. Time for a mea culpa...
Robert Gezelter Actually, this item is not truly news. We already know from the detailed report on the Google Streetview incident what the error was, and it is unsurprising (to say the least) that the precise same software utility was used worldwide.

It would be unsurprising if each country in which Streetview operated were to find the same thing.

As I noted previously in my blog entry entitled "Google Streetview and Unencrypted Wi-Fi: Not a Hazard", republished on Infosec Island at, Streetview's capturing of Wi-Fi data is not a hazard that everyone should be focusing attention on.

The more serious threat is from private parties who can easily monitor unencrypted Wi-Fi. More extensive use of TLS and VPN tunnels for sensitive information is a far better response. After all, a neighbor listening on the Wi-Fi is of far more danger.
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