Google hoist by its own petard in Street View SNAFU

Search giant Google has claimed to the US Congress that its interception of payload data from open wi-fi networks using Street View is not illegal under US law.

But it has emerged that while it is taking one view about invading open wi-fi networks, its own view, expressed in its privacy policy, is quite different.

Earlier this month, the Oglers wrote a response to Congress claiming that the fact it had collected data from open wi-fi networks was not illegal.

The letter from Google, respondng to a letter written by Henry A. Waxman on the 26th of May 2010, said: “We believe it does not violate US law to collect payload data from networks that are configured to be openly accessible. We emphasis that being lawful and being the right thing to do are two different things, and that collecting payload data was a mistake for which we are profoundly sorry.” The letter can be found here.

Yet that’s not the view that Google takes for its own wi-fi network in Mountain View, California. It has a privacy policy for this network which reads: “Wireless internet access presents challenges for protecting your information from illegal data interception by third parties.”

So, whether Google was or was not acting with evil intent by collecting payload data from open networks globally, it seems that the company has one thing to say when it’s being carpeted by Congress – and for that matter other governments around the world – and another line when it talks about its own wi-fi network.

The real crunch is that even if Google made an awful mistake by inadvertently collecting data from open networks, the line that it does not violate US law by doing so seems to set a precedent that would let anyone collect data from open wi-fi systems.

And that, surely, can’t be right.