Google Wi-Fi Sniffing Analogy Is Wrong

If I were to leave my house unlocked, I’d not expect people to enter without permission, even though they probably could do so. But if I were having a conversation, perhaps a meeting using a microphone so that everyone could hear, and I left my windows open so that passersby could hear every word, well, I’d have to expect that and be OK with it. No?
Google is in all sorts of trouble over Wi-Fi sniffing by its Street View cars. And lawyers now argue that the data was not collected accidentally as previously claimed, but that the cars were deliberately programmed to collect the data.
And many are comparing this to the unlocked house example, so evil and sinister, big bad Google silently creeping into your private property to steal from you. The thing is, that analogy is flat out inaccurate. My microphone broadcasting info up and down the street is a far more technically accurate analogy. And yes, if you yell outdoors, clearly and free for all to hear, well, then you can’t complain if sometime writes it all down.

8 responses to “Google Wi-Fi Sniffing Analogy Is Wrong”

  1. Steve 'Cutter' Blades Avatar
    Steve ‘Cutter’ Blades

    Why is it that there are so many people today who seem to believe that it is someone else’s responsibility to protect them? Especially from themselves…

  2. sigh Avatar

    Completely disagree. You are promoting if there isn’t a law for it then I am 100% justified in doing it. Ethics have been thrown out the door.

  3. JF Avatar

    @sigh I think the main argument is that you are actually broadcasting this content for other to pickup for free. This is different than leaving your door unlock.
    It’s a radio communication using radio frequency, unless encrypted everyone has always

  4. TomasF Avatar

    I don’t think it’s very interesting who has the best analogy, but let’s get that out of the way. If you yell something down the street, people passing by will have no choice on whether to hear what you’re saying or not, only if they want to pay attention or not. There’s no active participation to receive your transmission, while Google deliberately connects to the network and the records. So they’re both poor analogies… great, move on.
    The interesting tidbit here isn’t that at all. And let’s be honest, people with open, unsecured networks have a lot more serious challenges than the Google bug.
    The interesting thing here is the fact that Google is recording the unique identifiers of your network, mapping it to your address (they’ll have the signal strength, and if they’ve driven down a couple of roads in your neighbourhood, triangulation is inherent), and they’re making some of the information public to anyone, and withholding other information without telling what info that is. If that doesn’t make you curious and somewhat concerned, technology isn’t your thing.

  5. Roger Avatar

    Ben: At risk of echoing a previous comment, you’re confusing legality and ethics. Is what Google’s doing illegal? Perhaps not. But it’s creepy and unneighborly.
    To use your analogy, yeah, someone could sit outside and record all of your public comments as well as your comings and goings, and be within his rights all the while. He would also be a dick. 😀

  6. dave Avatar

    What about adobe apps constantly collecting and sending data from our computers to adobe for analysis? Adobe is bypassing the wifi stage altogether and going straight into the machine.
    I bought it, I registered it, now get the hell out and stay out. If you want my data for your "research" or whatever then offer to pay me for it, don’t try to sneak it out the back door.

  7. Moses Avatar

    If people would encrypt their traffic it seems like very little of use to google or embarrasing tobthem could be collected!

  8. David Avatar

    I think the first paragraph by ThomasF sums up the difference best.
    If it’s not illegal or unethical, it’s only because it’s a new phenomenon. People have had houses since time began, not so with WiFi. The movie/record industry *still* hasn’t convinced people it’s unethical to download music/movies (they’ve done a good job with legal threats to stem the flow, though), because it’s digital. People don’t feel it’s *stealing*, but they probably would if they were to take the same packaged product.
    Oh wait, that’s another good analogy – if there were DVD’s on the street, would it be ok for people to take them?

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