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Google cars may have been looking at more than scenery

May 1, 2012 - Art Smith
The Google Street View car is currently going up and down streets in the Parkersburg-Marietta area, recording a slew of photos every few feet. The photos later will be stitched together to form panoramic views for users of the site.

Google uses a large fleet of the high-tech cars as part of its effort to record photos of nearly every street in the nation as well as many foreign countries. The distinctive cars with their roof-mounted camera masts are simply driven down the road while the cameras record photos in multiple directions and store them along with the gps location onto an onboard computer server.

Apparently for three years, from May 2007 until May 2010 the cars also were recording something a little bit more personal than how messy your front yard looked. They were recording information about your computer network in your home.

Many people have wireless routers in their homes. The devices put out a signal that you intend to use for personal use. A lot of devices can pick up the signal, including tablets, computers, gaming devices, even your phone. For many people it’s the wireless gateway to the Internet.

A lot of people leave the connection unprotected, which means anyone within range, which can be up to a few hundred feet, can get online through your connection.

I’ve been guilty of this a few times. I stayed at a hotel once that charged for the Internet; the hotel next door offered it free. I used the free one. Sitting in the front of a school waiting on one of my kids once I was shocked to find not just one open connection, but five. In dense urban areas you may see dozens of networks pop-up, most will fortunately be locked.

Google reportedly collected information from networks that were assessable from the roads traveled for the street project. The FCC investigated the practice of collecting information that might have included passwords and other information. The agency ended up fining the Internet giant $25,000. Google has given some explanations as to why the information was collected and has pointed out a number of other companies also collect this type of data.

It has long been established that companies are within their rights to take photos from public areas. Taking data from private networks that are password-protected or password-free just seems wrong, not to mention a little creepy.

 
 

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Blog Photos

The Google car that is currently taking photos of the area.