Reuters is reporting that Google’s Street View cars have been capturing more than just panoramic city views. In fact, it seems Google Street View cameras have been busy illegally gathering data sent over wireless networks, including the text of entire e-mails, passwords and other personal information.
Google Blames Street View Scandal on Faulty Software
Google’s gathering of consumers’ personal online information is more involved than first reported. Google Street View cars gathered data via WiFi connections between 2006 and 2010 in over 30 countries. While Google admitted purposely gathering data in order to provide better location-based WiFi services, the Internet giant claims they were attempting to gather only fragmented bits of unencrypted info. The company claims they did not knowingly collect entire e-mails, passwords or other personal user data.
Google blames a faulty piece of computer code for violating consumer privacy. In all, Google Street View collected 600 GB of private consumer online information. Although the cars no longer collect any WiFi data, the info already collected can’t be deleted until each country affected gives them the thumbs up.
Google’s problems breaching consumer privacy are not unique. Facebook, MySpace and Twitter have all had recent scandals over violating consumer privacy.
Facebook Apps Discovered Collecting, Selling Information
Think playing Farmville is all just innocent fun? It turns out you may be doing more than just wasting a few hours by using Facebook’s most popular apps. The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook apps have been gathering and selling personal user information to third-party advertisers. All of the top 10 apps, including Farmville, Frontierville and Texas Hold ‘Em, have also been transmitting the personal information of user friends to outside servers.
Although gathering personal online information is nothing new for Facebook, it claims it only does so for its own use. While it is true that Facebook apps violated consumer privacy, there may be nothing that can be done by users right now to protect themselves, beyond discontinuing use of Facebook apps. For its part, Facebook has disabled the accounts of some apps, although the most popular apps are still up and running. Facebook engineers are reportedly working on a plan for better encryption of user information.
MySpace Not as Private as Users Thought
Touting itself as the more private Facebook has not made MySpace immune from accusations of violating consumer privacy. According to the International Business Times, MySpace users who clicked on ads appearing on other user profiles exposed their friends’ MySpace ID number to advertisers. ID numbers are supposed to be private and are the key for obtaining more detailed user information. While MySpace claims this breach only allowed advertisers access to info users made public, it still left users fuming.
Twitter Group Tweets Violate User Privacy
According to Tech Crunch, in April 2008, Twitter enraged users when their private messages were published to their public feed for all to see. Twitter blamed a new app called GroupTweet for violating consumer privacy and disabled new registrations for the app immediately. It seems GroupTweet wasn’t exactly clear on how to properly send personal messages to a few, but not all, people on a user list.
How Consumers Can Protect Themselves from Invasions of Privacy
The Google Street View scandal raises the anxiety level for those concerned about online privacy. How can consumers make sure their personal information and e-mails stay private and secure? Avoiding social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter is a good place to start. Always make sure you have valid virus protection software installed on your computer. Make sure you are using secured or locked WiFi connections. Never use unsecured WiFi networks to do your banking or send emails. Update your computer’s privacy settings regularly.
Oreskovic, Alexei, “Google says its cars grabbed emails, passwords.” Reuters
Emily Steel and Geoffrey A. Fowler. “Facebook in Privacy Breech.” Wall Street Journal
Jesse Emspak. “Invisible Data Gathering Raises Privacy Concerns.” International Business Times
Julia Angwin and Tom McGinty. “Sites Feed Personal Details To New Tracking Industry.” Wall Street Journal
Arrington, Michael, “Privacy Disaster At Twitter: Direct Messages Exposed (Update: GroupTweet Is Likely Culprit).” TechCrunch