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Google-Street-View tours also used for scanning WLAN-networks

Data Protection Commissioners demand immediate removal of WLAN-scanners from Google-Street-View vehicles

Peter Schaar, the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, has learned from a European data protection authority that Google-Street-View-vehicles were also equipped with a scanner for WLAN-networks.

Following an inquiry, a representative of Google Inc. admitted to the competent Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, Prof. Dr. Johannes Caspar, that also in Germany all vehicles used for the Internet service of Google Street View are equipped with technological devices for mapping WLAN-networks. From Google, we have not received any written answer to questions about the exact technological proceedings and backgrounds as regards this registration. Moreover, we have not yet been granted any inspection of a Google-Street-View-vehicle.

Therefore, the suspicion is corroborated that in recent years, tours for Google Street View were not only used for photographing street views, but also for the comprehensive collection and retention of WLAN-networks that are also operated by private households. According to present findings it has to be assumed that in addition to local registration, the encryption status of the devices, the world-wide unique MAC-address, also the name allotted by the operator (so-called SSID) was stored. As to the SSID, private persons quite often use their clear names or other information referring to them. With a view to the use of one’s own name and also to the possibility to attribute WLAN-networks to habitants of houses due to their local position, this is a case of collection and retention of personal data and of their transfer to the United States of America.

Explains Professor Dr. Johannes Caspar: The procedure of Google is unacceptable. This illegal scanning has never been the subject matter of discussions about Google Street View. The operators of WLAN-networks were not aware of the covert storage of their network. However, they take a great interest above all in preventing the public dissemination of the encryption status. Information about the encryption status are extremely prone to misuse and they can quite well make it possible that respective data are used as signposts for surfers without a license. Therefore, I demand the immediate removal of all respective scanners. It will be only allowed to resume Google-Street-View-Tours if Google comes back to our agreement of June 2009 and stops tours including network scanning which are not in compliance with data protection law.

Also Peter Schaar, the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, reacted with much anger to the use of tours for collecting further data: I am shocked for which purposes these tours were used without the third parties being aware of them. I call on Google to immediately erase personal data about WLAN networks that have up to now been illegally collected and to stop tours for Street View. I agree with my Hamburg colleague that in the future, only tours in the framework of Google Street View are accepted which take place on the basis of the agreement with data protection supervisory authorities and in accordance with German data protection law. Even Google has to respect our data protection standards!

Professor Caspar and Peter Schaar announced that they will also discuss this topic at the next session of the supervisory authorities in the Düsseldorf Circle next week in Hannover.

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