Verpixeln, Digital Publication, 2014
Google launched its Street View feature in the United States in 2007 to complement its Google Maps service by providing users with panoramic, street-level photographs. Street View photographs are captured by cameras mounted on vehicles owned by Google that drive on public roads and photograph their surroundings. Between 2007 and 2010, Google also equipped its Street View cars with Wi-Fi antennas and software that collected data transmitted by Wi- Fi networks in nearby homes and businesses. The equipment attached to Google’s Street View cars recorded basic information about these Wi-Fi networks, including the network’s name (SSID), the unique number assigned to the router transmitting the wireless signal (MAC address), the signal strength, and whether the network was encrypted. Gathering this basic data about the Wi-Fi networks used in homes and businesses enables companies such as Google to provide enhanced “location-based” services, such as those that
allow mobile phone users to locate nearby restaurants and attractions or receive driving directions. But the antennas and software installed in Google’s Street View cars collected more than just the basic identifying information transmitted by Wi-Fi networks. They also gathered and stored “payload data” that was sent and received over unencrypted Wi-Fi connections at the moment that a Street View car was driving by.1 Payload data includes everything transmitted by a device connected to a Wi-Fi network, such as personal emails, usernames, passwords, videos, and documents. Google acknowledged in May 2010 that its Street View vehicles had been collecting fragments of payload data from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks. The company publicly apologized, grounded its vehicles, and rendered inaccessible the personal data that had been acquired… but plaintiffs brought suit under federal and state law, including the Wiretap Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2511. Google argues that its data collection did not violate the Act because data transmitted over a Wi-Fi network is an “electronic communication” that is “readily accessible to the general public” and exempt under the Act. 18 U.S.C. § 2511(2)(g)(i). The district court rejected Google’s argument. In re:Google Inc. St. View Elec. Commc’n Litig., 794 F. Supp. 2d 1067, 1073–84 (N.D. Cal. 2011)… In total, Google’s Street View cars collected about 600 gigabytes of data transmitted over Wi-Fi networks in more than 30 countries.
-Joffe V. Google, Inc. 11-17483. United State Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. 2013
In an April 2009 interview for the German magazine Focus, Google’s Global Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer remarked that “public opposition to Google Street View in Germany, though not hysterical, had been tougher than in any other country.”On the same occasion he stated that the project has now been “essentially aligned with the concerns of data privacy advocates,” and that “specific privacy tools would be developed for the German launch while imaging continues at the fastest possible pace.” The option to have specific images removed would also apply for locations in Germany. As of October 2010, 244,237 German households have opted out Street View2. Google complied by blurring the façades on the corresponding Street View images. This procedure is misleadingly called ‘pixelating’ in Germany (German: ‘Verpixeln’)3.
1. Focus No. 18/2009, p. 20 (April 28, 2009)
2. David Gordon Smith – with wire reports (Oc-tober 21, 2010). “Germans Unfazed by Google Street View”. Der Spiegel. Retrieved February 15, 2011.
3. mbw – with wire reports (September 20, 2010). “More than 100,000 Germans Ask Google to Blur their Homes”. Der Spiegel. Retrieved February 15, 2011.