NEWS arrow Google forced to change privacy practices after report the search giant publicises the home addresse

Google forced to change privacy practices after report the search giant publicises the home addresse

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Google forced to change privacy practices after report the search giant publicises the home addresses of wi-fi users

Google has been forced to take action after it was reported the search giant publicises the estimated locations of millions of iPhones, laptios and other devices with wi-fi connections.

The practice meant that if a user had wi-fi turned on, previous whereabouts of your device - such as your home, office, or even restaurants you frequent - were visible on the web for all to see.

But when it was detailed in an exclusive CNET report the practice launched a new row over embattled Google's privacy standards.

Android phones with location services enabled on them regularly beam the hardware IDs of wi-fi devices in the area back to Google.

A Google Street View camera. The cameras were capable of picking up MAC addresses from homes they were passing and transmitting them over the internet
A Google Street View camera. The cameras were capable of picking up MAC addresses from homes they were passing and transmitting them over the internet

It's not easy to track down a MAC address - but anyone within 100 feet of you can record it, along with whoever else is within that range, then narrow it down.

Suspicious husbands or wives who know how to use the About function on an iPhone can do so easily also.

When CNET investigated, approximately 10 per cent of the laptops and mobiles using wi-fi listed by Google appeared to correspond to street addresses.

The list of matches published by Skyhook Wireless was closer to five per cent.

Technology lecture Nick Doty of the University of California at Berkeley entered his one MAC address into Google's database - turning up the address of his former home in Seattle.

He told CNET he was surprised to see 'such precise data' publicly available on the internet.

Now a Google source has told CBS News that the company is changing the way its location server processes location requests, apparently to move closer to the system used by Apple and Microsoft, which never publicise location details.

The company would not officially comment on the story.

Marc Rotenberg, head of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C., told CBS: 'Even the companies don't fully understand how they're collecting location-based data.

'That's one more reason why the emphasis in this area has to be on better practices, not better privacy policies.'

The same happens with Microsoft, Apple and Skyhook Wireless as part of each company's race to map the street addresses of various access points and routers around the globe, CNET explained.

However both Google and Skyhook Wireless make the data publicly available on the internet.

That means that if someone knows your hardware ID - or your MAC address - they can trace a physical address that Google associates with you, such as your home or office address.

They can even trace your favourite restaurant or your gym - anywhere you go frequently that has wi-fi.

"Daily Mail" article

Last Updated Monday, 04 July 2011

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