Leading article: Disgraceful snooping from a cyber giant

Share
Related Topics

There are two kinds of assault on our civil liberties. There are those we know about – like the last government's plans for identity cards, or the omnipresence of CCTV cameras in the high street, which citizens can at least oppose. But there are also the threats about which we remain in the dark, like the secret way in which $200bn search engine Google captured private data.

It is only thanks to investigations by regulators – in seven of the 30 countries where Google Maps has sent camera cars to photograph millions of houses – that we have now discovered that the vehicles were also sucking up information from unencrypted wi-fi transmitters inside private homes. To many, the photographs themselves were intrusion enough, initially showing house number, car registration plates and all manner of embarrassing scenes, from some people naked in their gardens to others emerging from sex shops. But the sweep of internet wireless data is more worrying.

So too is the piecemeal way that the information has been extracted from Google. At first it said it did not gather data. Then it said it was only fragmentary, since each network was only accessed for one-fifth of a second. Finally it admitted that entire emails, URLs and passwords were "inadvertently" captured. In the UK the Information Commissioner is investigating. But even if privacy laws have been breached, Google will face a maximum fine of only £500,000 – which is hardly likely to dent an annual income of £4.5bn.

Regulators in Italy have already instructed Google to mark its cars and give residents several days' notice before it roams their neighbourhoods. But such measures do not address the really serious question of what other kinds of cyber-surveillance Google, or anybody else, might be conducting.

Google says there was an experimental project to obtain details of WiFi hot spots that could help "location based web services" and that the actual collection of data was a mistake.

But it seems that there is little to stop companies from logging any information they can, purely in the event that they later come up with a clever idea for how to make money from it. Greater controls are needed.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

Amanda Hess
Armed RCMP officers approach Centre Block on Parliament Hilll  

Ottawa shooting: A shock attack in a peaceful nation

Jeffrey Simpson
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink