Google is innocent (ish)

So Google’s streetview cars have been driving around harvesting people’s email passwords have they? Well this is probably true. Let’s sue/fine/regulate them!

Actually, let’s not. They haven’t done anything wrong. What Google’s surveying vehicles did was record the wireless Ethernet radio activity as they went along, to get an idea of where the WIFI hotspots are. This is a really useful thing for someone to have done – there’s no other way to find out what’s really where than by doing a ground-level survey.

In order to determine what kind of service they’re receiving you need to record a bit of the traffic for analysis. If it’s a private service, this traffic will be encrypted so it really doesn’t matter a jot – they’d be mostly recording gibberish. If it’s an open, public service they’d get the clear text of whatever happened to be transmitted at the time if the luser’s weren’t using application-layer encryption. If some technological dunderhead decides to do a radio broadcast of his unencrypted passwords, Google (and anyone else in the vicinity) will end up receiving that too.

Look at it another way – if someone wrote their password on a big sign and stuck it in the front of their house, anyone walking down the road couldn’t help but capture it. Are the pedestrians doing something wrong, or is the owner of the house an idiot?

It’s no good the idiots bleating on about Google. That won’t give them brains. It might, however, give them some of Google’s money and this could be the real motive.

The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, has come up with some surprising statements about Google. But on review, they’re only surprising to someone understanding the technical issues here. Does this mean Graham is a technological klutz? It’s one theory – at times it seems like everyone the government appoints to deal with technology requires this as a qualification. However I think it’s far more likely a case of bowing to media/political pressure on the subject and wishing to be seen to be doing something about it.

Then, last Friday, Google signed an undertaking with the Information Commissioner’s Office to train their staff that they mustn’t do naughty things (just in case they were ever tempted). In return for this the ICO promises to leave them alone. Read it for yourself – it’s only three pages long.

What’s sad about the whole affair is that the ICO is, first and foremost, a political/media driven entity even if there are some level heads at work behind the scenes. But what a waste of time and money…

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