Google Street View Cars Captured Locations of Phones and PCs

Ryan Whitwam

Google certainly does not need anymore bad publicity for its Street View product after lat year’s Wi-Fi data scandal. But, here we have the French data protection authority Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) claiming that Google’s Street View cars slurped up the MAC addresses of mobile devices and laptops.

The MAC address is a unique number given to every IEEE certified network interface device. It is essentially a unique identifier that is very hard to change. CNIL says that their investigation shows that Google’s Wi-Fi sniffing cars were grabbing these numbers in addition to the MAC addresses from routers, like the were supposed to. By having to GPS coordinates associated with a MAC address, devices can estimate their location based on nearby MAC addresses.

The offending data was posted to Google’s location web interface. Most experts feel that the inclusion of mobile devices and computers was just an accident. Since these devices move around quite a bit, their MACs are not very useful for location determination. But this new wrinkle has once again led to demands for an opt-out method for Google location tracking.

The MAC IDs should not pose any real privacy problems for individuals. The number is tied to a computer, not the person using it. No one can know where someone has been from this data unless they already have the MAC address.

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