Google's Engineering Director yesterday explained how the company came to accidentally collect payload data from people's WiFi networks.
Google Australia engineering director Alan Noble spoke out at the company’s I/O event in Sydney yesterday about the code which collected public unsecured Wi-Fi details and brought the Google Maps Street View update to its knees.
“The short history of that was this was essentially an experimental code that was to be used for a completely different product, that was re-used by an engineer. This is where this was a mistake, it was definitely something that was not signed off by anyone,” Noble told journalists at the event yesterday.
The code scandal became public knowledge in a Google blog post on April 23, with the search giant disclosing that its Street View Cars had automatically been collecting some ‘payload’ data from unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots.
“What had been signed off as a project was the collection of Wi-Fi hotspot location information, so the intention was to capture Wi-Fi protocol information, not their information and — as its been documented at length — the error of our part was the ability to capture the data,” said Noble.
In a Google Blog Post updated on May 17 Google stated: “As soon as we became aware of this problem, we grounded our Street View cars and segregated the data on our network, which we then disconnected to make it inaccessible.”
As for the unsecured Wi-Fi information collected, Noble said that Google was working with local regulatory departments to dispose of the data.
“So, yeah, I know that we’ve basically [done] a couple of things — so first thing quarantine the qualitative data that was collected in a secure area working with policy and regulatory agencies around the world. We would like to basically dispose of the data and be done with it — but we realise that this is obviously a sensitive issue, so we want to make sure it is done in a way that meets the requirements of the various regulatory organisations,” he said.
When questioned if Google would go through all of its code, Noble said: “We actually we do have quite a vigorous auditing system in place. Is every single line of Google code audited? No.”
Noble admitted that Google does have a lot to work on. “Do we audit our major systems in products? Yes so obviously we can improve that standard and this is a work in progress,” he said.
Yesterday, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy attacked Google for the Street View Wi-Fi collection mishap, stating that it was possibly “the largest privacy breach in history across Western democracies”.