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Google Street View and Wi-Fi Privacy

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I didn't realize that the cars which go down the street taking photos for Google's street views can also 'sweep up sensitive personal information from wireless home networks." (NY Times)


Google says they have no plans to use the information, and in fact have not even looked at it, but the very possibility that they can get this info just driving down the street is troubling.


How safe is wi-fi? If you have a security password to lock it, can Google still pick up the information? Can your neighbors pick it up? How about the other coffee drinkers at Starbucks?


You can see that I really don't know much about this.

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You don't link to the story so I can only guess they're talking about unsecured WiFi hotspots.


Any WiFi network that isn't secured is sharing everything on it to the world. The last study I saw said something like 80% of home WiFi networks don't have basic password protection. You can actually buy gadgets and go driving down the street looking for open WiFi hotspots and find them pretty easily.


When it comes to public networks (i.e. Starbucks), everyone who knows how to get in can see everyone else that knows how to get in so your personal security will depend on how your laptop/tablet/phone/whatever is set up.


But remember: a human invented whatever security you're using. Anything one guy invents, another (usually a 13-year old named Howie) can break.


In the immortal words of Douglas Addams: DON'T PANIC!

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Hey Lucky,


I never thought that I would be writing about something like this on this board. First, it is not just Google that is doing this, any company that does cartography is going to be doing this. Google did unintentionally capture any data that was broadcast on a wireless network which was not secured by a password. They have since stopped doing this and any information they did capture at the time was in little random chunks. Both Google and Facebook already get a ton of information about as you browse across the web, all those little Facebook Like buttons and +1 buttons...


The information Google collects now is pretty harmless. The drive around with their GPS on searching for wireless networks broadcasting their presence and grab the SSID, the name you have given wireless network. If you're interested, mine is call "The Way." See, nothing anyone can do with that. They attempt to connect to it giving them MAC address of that wireless network. A MAC address is a unique address every device online has but is not accessible beyond your network. If you have a password they just get disconnected, if you don't have one (and you REALLY REALLY should) they just disconnect themselves. They link the SSID with the MAC address, as they drive along they log the GPS location of the car to the MAC address and the signal strength of the wireless network. And the SSID becomes garbage once the car is out of range.


So why on Earth would they want all this info? If you have an Android phone and you are in a building where you can't get a GPS signal, Google maps will still locate you. If you're driving down the street using your phone to navigate it can save on battery by triangulating its location if the WiFi is already on. Bringing GPS up and locking onto satellites can be expensive.


WiFi is safe but you should always try to treat it as though it isn't. If you have a password no one can access any information on your network without first cracking your password. And really who is going to take the time to do that? I kid that wants to watch porn. Not even the government would do this, they would just get a warrant. If you're really worried about this you can change your password every six months but remember any device connected to it will have to have the password re-entered. You can also log into you wireless router and have set it to not broadcast SSID, I don't recommend this as you will have to enter the SSID any time you want to connect a new device. You should check the auto-update feature in your router to make sure that your router firmware is up to date. You should make sure you are NOT using WEP security for the wireless network but hopefully WPA2.


There is currently an issue with WPS on many many many of the WiFi routers which I would be happy to post about if you would like.


I hope this answered your questions and that you found it a little informative.

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Thanks, Boston Phil. I can relax now. My wifi is secured by a complex password that only teenagers could figure out.

The NY Times article did not specify secure or not when mentioning the wifi capture. Maybe they figured out only fools would mistake it.

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