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Cut Google Some Slack

So they grabbed a little too much data (again) while wardriving around with their Street View cars. So what. They say it was a mistake for which they apologize profoundly and naturally I believe them out of some logic on top of the kool-aid I’ve drunk. Some developer cooked up code without any parsing and discarding functions back in 2006 and that code made its way into the cars a year later without the project leaders either knowing about it or wanting it. Consequently, while driving around to take pictures for Google Maps and to improve their databases used for hybrid positioning, data aggregated included some bits and pieces of unencrypted packets which couldn’t have been too useful given that the cars were on the move and that the wifi equipment changed channels five times a second.

Not only is that an enormous pile of worthless information, it’s quite self-destructive, and given that Google came clean about it on their blog, pledging not to use the data in their products while insisting they hadn’t, cooperating with foreign authorities to expunge the data in manners those governments see fit and with their oversight along with scrutiny of independent auditors, is it not obvious that this was an accident? What, this was intentional, a calculated risk they thought they could get away with?

Google gets a little excited sometimes when they come up with a new idea, particularly with Street View and Buzz, and they make a couple slip ups. But c’mon, they’re human (though their services have a certain God-like quality to them). And they know how to write a moving apology: “We are profoundly sorry.” That’s good stuff right there, straight from Toyota’s playbook. I think I’ll use that the next time I make my own innocent mistake. I know I’m going out on a limb here by saying this but if anything this provoked a lot of network admins and wifi router and access point owners to encrypt their data from the real bad guys, not just the occasionally accidental bad guys who are subsequently apologetic, transparent and cooperative.

Why would Google even need this data, fragments of random information so tiny that at best they might have only been able to parse some web addresses out of it? They already do that quite effectively every time someone Googles a website’s address rather than typing it into their address bar along with whatever clues Chrome gives them, Google Analytics, AdSense, free public wifi (and soon free broadband) — just go down the list, they’ve got all the data mined up they could possibly need flowing in through less politically incendiary methods and their terms of services for those services are spelled out clearly. Give them a pass on this.

Doug Simmons