London : Britain’s entire wireless network has been mapped by Google’s street view car fitted with radio aerials in order to use the database for commercial purposes through its internet search engine.
Every WiFi wireless router, the device that links a computer with the internet, has been entered into a Google database. The information was collected by the street view cars, which have photographed almost every home in the country.
The data is used on Google’s maps in order to help users of cellphones and iphones to access information relevant to the area such as restaurants, cinemas and shops.
The project had remained secret until an inquiry in Germany earlier this month in which Google was forced to admit that it “mistakenly” downloaded emails and other data from unsecured wireless networks, The Telegraph reported.
Google argued that other companies, including Skyhook Wireless which has a contract with iphone maker Apple, have already mapped the networks.
The information, which lists the networks’ MAC (Media Access Control) address and SSID (Service Set-ID) number but not their house number, is publicly available because the wireless signals extend beyond the property in which they are located, Google said.
Though Google has suspended the use of street view cars across the world, its work in Britain is already complete.
Google said last week that it had not notified data protection authorities because “we did not think it was necessary” but it added: “It’s clear with hindsight that greater transparency would have been better.”
Authorities in Britain, the US and other countries have asked Google to retain the downloaded emails pending a full inquiry but it is unclear what its obligations are concerning the WiFi data.
Privacy campaigners claim that there has been a breakdown in regulation.
A spokesman for Privacy International said: “The ghost of street view continues to haunt Google.
“We think it will historically be viewed as a horrendous breach of law and something which a better regulator with a better understanding of the issues and the technology would never have allowed to happen.
“The idea that it can log everyone’s wi-fi details because it is all “public” is a bogus argument. It is bogus because of the question of scale and the question of integration with other information which would amount to a huge breach of our privacy.”
A spokesman for the Information Commissioner’s Office said: “All organisations that process personal information must comply with the requirements of the Data Protection Act.
“Organisations are only permitted to collect data for a specific purpose. Similarly, organisations must only retain data for as long as necessary. If we find evidence of significant wrongdoing, we will of course investigate and consider what action should be taken,” the spokesman was quoted as saying.