Google's Wi-Fi data collection efforts were extensive

Google is once again in the spotlight for privacy concerns over its Wi-Fi data collecting.

Google's Wi-Fi data collection efforts are yet again making headlines. CNET reported Monday that it had received confirmation from a French data protection agency that Google had collected the physical location of millions of Wi-Fi enabled devices, and made the collected data publicly available online up until a few weeks ago.

The Mountain View company was already been in the news as early as May of last year over concerns that it was collecting Wi-Fi information through its network of Street View cars. Google claimed that the data was used to improve location information, but many privacy advocates feared that the company was collecting personal data. It was later cleared of such charges.

From CNET's reporting, it appears this practice never stopped. It suggests that not only were routers and access points being tracked as reported a year ago, but all other kinds of Wi-Fi devices, including phones, laptops, and tablets.

Android phones, for example, were being used by Google to send back MAC ID's of nearby WI-Fi devices.

The biggest problem though was what Google then did with the data: all collected information was made available on a publicly accessible map. Any one could now access the physical location of tracked Wi-Fi devices, without any thought to the privacy wishes of those involved or any way to opt-out.

I think this is the sticking point for many in this whole dustup over Google's data collection efforts. Some of us choose to live very private lives. The search giant instead seems to follow the logic that if it's out there to find, they have a right to take it. That's just wrong.

Google seriously needs to reconsider how it does business. It seems as time has gone by, Google has strayed far from its "don't be evil" mantra to a company that is far too aggressive and cavalier about the wishes of its users.

That said, people who use Google do have options to go elsewhere for the services that the company provides. Have they? Not really, as Google still continues to dominate the industry.

For more tech news and commentary, follow Ed on Twitter at @edoswald and on Facebook.

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Ed Oswald

PC World (US online)
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