Last week, Google has admitted that Google Street View cars have been sniffing data from WIFI networks (official announcement). The goal was probably to get a map of MAC addresses (device IDs) in relation to their geo-location. However, it looks like fragments of data (files..) have been scrapped in the process.
A case has been opened (in Oregon) in which the plaintiffs claim that Google has stored private information on their servers. “On information and belief, hundreds if not thousands of Google employees throughout the United States and the world have access to data maintained on Google’s servers”, they add. Of course, the plaintiffs have asked for punitive damages. Note, and this is important, that the plaintiffs WIFI network was open.
First, it’s not very hard to figure that some people might be irritated by the fact that Google drives around to gather data. However, it’s not clear to me what exactly Google has gathered. Personally, I don’t really mind if they map my router’s MAC address to a physical location. Also, it’s a bit naive (if not stupid) to leave a WIFI network open, only to complain that someone has been accessing it. If anything, those folks are probably lucky that it’s Google and not an ID thief that has been snooping around. Finally, I’m pretty sure that the overwhelming majority of Google employees don’t have access (or care) about this data gathered. Clearly, Google should not have gathered any data, but this lawsuit seems a little overkill, especially since we don’t know what kind of personal data Google really scrapped.
Update: Google has updated the page that I linked to in the first paragraph. It looks like the data has been deleted:
On Friday May 14 the Irish Data Protection Authority asked us to delete the payload data we collected in error in Ireland. We can confirm that all data identified as being from Ireland was deleted over the weekend in the presence of an independent third party. We are reaching out to Data Protection Authorities in the other relevant countries about how to dispose of the remaining data as quickly as possible.