Hey, You With the Open Wi-Fi: You're an Idiot

OMG! (As folks in more youthful circles text on their cell phones.) I'm finding it hard to believe the ridiculous furor over the Google Wi-Fi-sniffing Street View cars!

On the off chance that your last name is Van Winkle and you've just woken up, let me explain the issue: Google sent cars all over the world to photograph the highways and byways so that all of us virtual tourists can see, for example, what the Drax Arms in Shitterton, Dorset, England looks like from street level.

The Googlemobiles sported not only cameras but also GPS receivers and (this is the biggie) Wi-Fi sniffing gear.

Having Wi-Fi equipment on board to map wireless hot spots would seem a logical thing to do, after all, Shitterton doesn't appear to have a Starbucks (making it unique in all of the known universe), so knowing whether the Drax Arms has Wi-Fi could be jolly useful should you be passing through Shitterton on your way to Winterbourne Abbas.

This would have been all well and good but the Google Street View cars unintentionally captured a lot of extra information on all of the Wi-Fi spots they passed and, because most people's understanding of computer security is on par with their grasp of Fermat's Last Theorem, some enormous number of these Wi-Fi systems were "open", which is to say, they were (and probably still are) unencrypted. This meant that along with the location of these systems and their SSIDs (that is, the "visible" name of the access point), the Googlemobiles snagged a lot of private data such as e-mail addresses, passwords, e-mail messages, and so on.

This came to light after Google performed an audit at the behest of the data protection authority in Hamburg, Germany. Europeans are very hot on the topic of privacy and the idea of an outfit like Google taking photographs in public places and putting them online is just the tip of their "OMG! That's just not right and something must be done about it" iceberg.

I have to digress for a moment and ask why is it that so many people are so bent out of shape over having their homes and businesses imaged by Google for Street View? Are they out there continuously monitoring who might be pointing a camera in their direction? No. Do they demand that passersby avert their gaze? No again. Do they scour YouTube and Flickr and demand that images of their stuff be deleted? No, they do not. And how is it that Google Street View is significantly different from the maps with satellite photos that both Google and Microsoft offer other than being horizontal rather than vertical views?

Look people, it's simple: If you don't want other people to see your house or your building or whatever, put up a fence. Close the curtains or choose a place that isn't visible to the public in the first place. Or how about just get used to it? Once again, the digital genie is out of the digital bottle and no amount of whining about that fact can change it even if it was a big deal in the first place … which it wasn't.

Subscribe to the Security Watch Newsletter

Comments