Why-Spy: An Analysis of Privacy and Geolocation in the Wake of the 2010 Google Wi-Spy Controversy Notes & Comments

Chow, Raymond
Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal

Google’s reputation was marred in 2010 when it found itself in the middle of what has been called the “Wi-Spy” incident. Google’s Street View service gathered street-level imagery visible to the general public on Google Maps by roaming the streets with omni-directional cameras mounted on their cars.’ Sometime after the service was launched, Google upgraded the cars to include a wireless signal detector, which would record the Media Access Control Address (MAC address) 2 along with other data, make a note of the car’s current global positioning system (GPS) location, and correlate the two in a massive database. This geolocation database was then made available to the public; an individual’s cell phone or other mobile device would query the database with a list of visible nearby networks, and Google’s system would return a fairly accurate geolocation. This system was brought to public attention upon discovery that the data collection was more extensive than first thought: Google had inadvertently captured significant amounts of payload data, including passwords and sensitive personal data.