In this context, the following report by Andrew Orlowski in yesterday’s The Register makes interesting reading:
“Google’s roving Street View spycam may blur your face, but it’s got your number. The Street View service is under fire in Germany for scanning private WLAN networks, and recording users’ unique Mac (Media Access Control) addresses, as the car trundles along. Germany’s Federal Commissioner for Data Protection Peter Schaar says he’s “horrified” by the discovery. “I am appalled… I call upon Google to delete previously unlawfully collected personal data on the wireless network immediately and stop the rides for Street View,” according to German broadcaster ARD. Spooks have long desired the ability to cross reference the Mac address of a user’s connection with their real identity and virtual identity, such as their Gmail or Facebook account. Other companies have logged broadcasting WLAN networks and published the information. By contrast Google has not published the WLAN map, or Street View in Germany; Google hopes to launch the service by the end of the year. But Google’s uniquely cavalier approach to privacy, and its potential ability to cross reference the information raises additional concerns. Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently said internet users shouldn’t worry about privacy unless they have something to hide. And when there’s nowhere left to hide…?”.
I have cautioned elsewhere about the implications of Google’s approach to digital information, and the enormous power that this gives the company. This is yet another example of the lack of transparency, and the secrecy underlying Google’s approach to accessing information about individuals. It may well not be illegal for Google to access Mac addresses – but if the above report is true it raises fundamental questions about Google’s approach to ethics.
I have for a long time refused to have a Gmail account – and try to ensure that they have as little of my data as possible. Perhaps the time has come for us to launch a global campaign to boycott Google? How much ogling can we all stand? The trouble is that their search engine is really quite good!