Google Street View could have been scanning your emails and texts

by Dale Wright

When Google sent its Street View car out to photograph the entire UK road network five years ago, nobody except Google knew that the car was collecting more than just images.
googlestreetview Google Street View could have been scanning your emails and texts

Software in the cars was harvesting information about people nearby, including their exact location, pictures and images they were sending and receiving, and any communications such as texts and emails. The same thing happened in other countries when the Google cars were supposed to be just taking pictures of roads.

Google were able to farm huge amounts of data from wifi networks using an application called gstumbler. Google claimed ignorance of the situation until an email was leaked from 2007 confirming that gstumbler was effectively spying on people nearby, picking up wifi signals without passwords. Some of these wifi networks were in peoples’ homes.

The creator of gstumbler apparently created the application to take a snapshot of our wifi networks – nothing more than a survey. The company say that the data has been held ever since but they have never analysed it. Had they actually used the data, they would be in serious legal trouble.

Nowadays routers are normally supplied with pre-set passwords, but back in 2007, many people ran their networks without passwords. Smartphones were expensive and far less common, but it’s possible that some of your internet activity could have been tracked by Google as they scanned your street or office.

Irish authorities have already ordered Google to erase everything they collected, but data collected from British mobile phone and internet users is still in the vaults at Google HQ. Top spokespeople at Google say they haven’t broken the law and shouldn’t be punished, but the British and EU governments are taking a renewed interest in Google’s privacy policies.

The controversy around Street View is just the latest scandal in a chain of privacy concerns at Google. If you use a Google account, you’ll have agreed to allow the company to pool everything you do into one massive database of information which it can use to identify exactly who you are, what you like and what kind of products you buy. Google say this is OK because everyone consents to having their data used in this way.

Are you concerned about Google holding too much of your personal data?