Sounds like they were automatically collecting data about packets being sent or received on unsecured wireless networks as they passed by. (ie; the sort of information you can look at with a utility like Wireshark.)
I realize that’s not a particularly helpful answer…
If the wireless connection is unencrypted, you can see the general traffic and link it to a particular ip address.
If the individual packets are unencrypted, you can see more information. http packets will let you see bits of what web traffic is passing, so you may be able to tell that Bob Smith was looking at incest porn at a particular moment, for example.
Also, how many people are using file-sharing protocols, etc.
While the amount of image data they collect must be immense, I’d still have to imagine that the amount of wi-fi data that one would collect at the same time would be sufficiently large that someone would notice the hard drive losing space to it over a span of 3 years. And if it was so subtle that Google wasn’t aware that they were collecting it, why would a third party suspect that they might be and run an inquiry?
As a techy, I’d have to call BS on their explanation.
Google is using vehicles to record digital images as they drive on public streets. Last time I checked this process does not require sniffing WiFi signals to take these happy snaps. So why was Google doing this in the first place, if they now claim to have stopped the sniffing and are destroying any collected WiFi data? Was this an internal Google plan or did someone else put up Google to collect the WiFi data for an unknown party?
My BS meter on this entire Google Streetview and subsequent WiFi sniffing has been pegged since they first announced their program.
What I’ve been reading is that Google plans to use this as part of its location referencing service. That is, they are not interested in the material that was being transferred via the WiFi networks, but just in the location of the networks. That way, in the future, it will know where the location is of the WiFi networks your laptop or cell phone is receiving, and can triangulate them to figure out where you are located. For use where GPS and regular cell phone tower triangulation don’t work.
ETA: Location referencing is considered to be the next gold mine for lots of industries. If they can tell EXACTLY where you are at all times, indoors or out, the advertising possibilities are unlimited. Don’t blame me, I’m just the messenger.
Exactly. There’s a similar service by the name of Skyhook, but since Google was going to have cars tooling around anyway, they decided to make the most of it.
As for what they could do with the data… I’m not sure anyone had though that one completely through, but I’m sure some programmer somewhere figured that if they’d be looking at wifi data anyway, they may as well grab the packets. Datamining can turn up some interesting information if you have enough raw data to feed into it.
As a side note, at least some Google cars have laser rangefinders on them, which is probably what generates/generated the red-blue 3D StreetView effect they had for a while (I can’t find it anymore), or much of the 3D in the new 3D World Map.
Sorry, I don’t get what they were supposed to be collecting. Mapping WiFi hotspots? I don’t get how that would be useful. If the information was static, that would be one thing. But hardware changes. IPs change. Don’t they?
Say I run a coffee shop. (Go on, say it. I’ll wait. … Done? Good.) My IP address changes every once in a while. My routers go down or are replaced every once in a while. I spoof MAC addresses for some reason. What are they collecting that they’re sure will be there in a few months? How can they tell when a new WiFi is created with similar stats to the scanned location?
But your router for the customers will be named - “Rhythmdvl Coffee Wifi” or similar. Google can use that and tie it to your address - if someone with an Android phone searches for “pizza”, Google might note that it can see your wifi network, conclude that they’re on your block, and pop up an ad for the pizza place next door.
Right, but isn’t that information inherently transient? Today it’s “Rhythmdvl Coffee Wifi,” tomorrow I replace my router and now it’s “Rhythmdvl**’s** Coffee Wifi.” Or I sell the business to a flea circus and they don’t change those particular hardware settings. It wouldn’t take many changes in a city to degrade the original information to low-quaility, particularly if Google has no way to discriminate between good and bad data.
Is Google going to make regular Wifi maps? Of every major city? That’s a hefty investment. Or is there another way to improve the integrity and reliability of the collected information? I trust Google to know what they’re doing—what am I not getting?
A couple of years ago when I updated my iPod Touch to the version 2 software, that new version came with Google Maps. Now my iPod Touch has no GPS or cellular radio capability; it has only WiFi. Down in the corner of the Google Maps screen, I noticed a little bullseye icon, so I hit that, and boy was I surprised when it put a bullseye on the map right at my house.
Knowing a little about the various radio standards, I couldn’t think of a way that they could be getting this info. After some searching, I came across the Skyhook info that Nanoda had linked to above.
Someone drove around, capturing the MAC addresses of wireless packets (from access points) that it was near, and logging those MAC addresses. They then created a database which Google Maps on the Touch can access - the Touch knows the MAC address of the router it’s connected to - it sends this info to Google, and Google returns the latitude/longitude of where that is.
Even if your router is encrypted, the MAC address info is transmitted in the clear.