Don’t be evil

Google has been collecting data on internet traffic passing over personal wi-fi networks:

Google Inc. said an internal investigation has discovered that the roving vans the company uses to create its online mapping services were mistakenly collecting data about websites people were visiting over wireless networks.

The Internet giant said it would stop collecting Wi-Fi data from its StreetView vans, which workers drive to capture street images and to locate Wi-Fi networks. The company said it would dispose of the data it had accidentally collected.

Alan Eustace, senior vice president of engineering and research for Google, wrote in a blog post that the company uncovered the mistake while responding to a German data-protection agency’s request for it to audit the Wi-Fi data, amid mounting concerns that Google’s practices violated users’ privacy.

Google had previously said it was collecting the location of Wi-Fi hot spots from its StreetView vehicles, but not the information being transmitted over those networks by users.

“It’s now clear that we have been mistakenly collecting samples of payload data from open (i.e. non-password-protected) Wi-Fi networks, even though we never used that data in any Google products,” wrote Mr. Eustace. “We are profoundly sorry for this error and are determined to learn all the lessons we can from our mistake.”

They say it was accidental, and maybe it was (although we have no way to know). But that doesn’t let them off the hook. Even in the most benign reading, this is a company that collects so much data that it can accidentally spy on you.

I also think they need to explain in greater detail how they are going to dispose of the data.

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