Google Responds to Congressional Inquiry Regarding Its Collection of Data from WiFi Networks

June 9, 2010. Google's Pablo Chavez sent a letter [7 pages in PDF] to leaders of the House Commerce Committee (HCC) regarding its "collection of data from WiFi networks".

On May 26, 2010, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), and Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) sent a letter [PDF] to Eric Schmidt, Ch/CEO of Google, asking questions regarding "recent reports that Google has gathered huge amounts of data sent over private Wi-Fi networks while documenting the streets of our country for its Google Street View product". See, story titled "House Commerce Committee Leaders Write Google Regarding Wi-Fi Data" in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 2,090, June 2, 2010.

Also, on May 19, 2010, Rep. Barton and Rep. Markey sent a letter [PDF] to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regarding Google's Wi-Fi data collection. See, story titled "Rep. Markey and Rep. Barton Write FTC Regarding Google Data Collection Activities" in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 2,085, May 20, 2010.

Chavez wrote to the HCC leaders that "Google Street View cars were outfitted with commercially available WiFi antennas and software on board our Street View cars. The system detected and collected WiFi network data, including SSID, MAC address, signal strength, data rate, channel of the broadcast, and type of encryption method."

SSID is service set identifier. See, Wikipedia. MAC is media access control. See, Wikipedia.

Chavez also explained that "Information about the location of WiFi networks improves the accuracy of the location-based services, such as Google Maps or driving directions, that Google provides to consumers."

In addition, "The data was relayed to Google-developed software that processed the data for storage, and eventually used to improve location-based services. This information was not used to identify any specific individual or household." Also, "Google does not share this WiFi information with third parties".

Chavez disclosed that Google also "collected samples of ``payload data´´ -- information sent over the network -- from open (unencrypted) networks", and that this "payload data may have included personal data". (Parentheses in original.)

Moreover, he said, Google acted "mistakenly", and "the payload data was not parsed for use; instead, it was stored in raw, aggregate, binary form". Also, this "payload data has never been used in any Google product or service, nor do we intend to use it".

Joel Gurin, Chief of the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGAB), wrote in the FCC web site on June 11, 2010, that "Whether intentional or not, collecting information sent over WiFi networks clearly infringes on consumer privacy."