Google’s been getting some flak for recording MAC addresses and unencrypted data from unsecured wireless access points while cruising around in their little street view cars. Several European countries have blown this completely out of proportion as have 37 states in this country.
Google has been very forthcoming with information including the fact that they were running Kismet in their vehicles. Kismet was being used to record the MAC addresses of wireless access points which were than tagged with GPS coordinates. The idea behind this is pretty simple; each access point has a unique MAC address. If you know the location of these wireless access points you can determine your location through Wi-Fi instead of having to rely on aGPS. The main advantage is you can have location based services with devices that have Wi-Fi cards but no GPS (for instance most laptops). By default Kismet saves all unencrypted data so Google obtaining this information isn’t so much nefarious as just forgetting to change the default settings.
Truth be told very little information is going to be gleamed from this data because the speed at which they were driving around put them in and out of range of most access points pretty quickly. Of course there is another thing to note here.
If you have an unsecured wireless access point and somebody is grabbing your data it’s your fault. Wireless data is broadcast out for all to hear. Treat it like yelling, if you and your significant other get into a yelling argument you can’t blame your neighbors for hearing what you two were screaming at each other. Wireless data is the same way. If your wireless signal enters my property then I have every right to eavesdrop on it. If you don’t want me to be able to do this you need to encrypt the data or shield your house well enough where your wireless signal isn’t entering my property (or in Google’s case public property where there is no expectation of privacy).
Instead of wasting time with this case I’d love to see these State Attorney’s deal with some real issues.