FCC Finds Google Taking Wi-Fi Information Legal{1}

by David L
This blog continues my previous blog named “Google’s Street View car’s do more than just take pictures”. The FCC now says that the collection of Wi-Fi information from Google’s Street View cars during the building process of Google Map’s Street View is actually legal. In the Article “Google Didn’t Steal Wi-Fi — Here’s Why” by Mike Elgan, Mike explains that “Google did not harvest data from inside people’s homes. Google plucked data from the public airwaves…” (Elgan, 2012).  Mike Elgan points out that Wi-Fi information collected by Wi-Fi routers/modems that broadcast onto public property is legal. In practical terms, what this means for us is that it is OK and legal to capture signals and possible information coming  from our neighbors Wi-Fi networks. And this also means that as long as Google’s Street View Car’s did not connect to homeowners unsecured network, they are legally safe.

Relating to my previous blog post, I’m not a lawyer but I believe that if Google wanted to publish the information collected from their Street View Cars, they could do so because that information is pretty much the same information that we could of gathered just by wardriving by ourselves. But this also raises another question, did Google’s Street View Car’s connect to the unsecured networks along with collecting their unsecured broadcasted data/router MAC address? If they did establish a connection to those networks, or connected and gathered more information from within the network to store into their database, then this would be illegal.

It seems very unlikely that Google’s Street View Car’s had the capability of connecting  to Wi-Fi networks to gather more information inside though. The reasons are basically it takes time for a device to connect to a Wi-Fi network to establish a connection and be connected, the Street View Cars are moving (assumed), and the limited broadcast range of Wi-Fi routers/modems. The three reasons combined make it very unlikely.

What this means to us is that we can assemble a database listing all the unprotected wireless networks of our street/block/city and collect any unsecured data broadcasted from those wireless networks, and as long as we do NOT connect to those networks (without permission), and do NOT connect to those networks (without permission) to gather more internal data on the network, we are legally safe.

Elgan, M. (2012, April 22). Google Didn’t Steal Wi-Fi — Here’s Why. Retrieved April 22, 2012, from http://www.pcworld.com/article/254216/google_didnt_steal_wifi_heres_why.html#tk.hp_new