Consumer Watchdog accuses Google of breaching the home WiFi networks of prominent lawmakers as part of its Google Street View snafu. To bolster its point, the group conducted some so-called wardriving to see if it could find unencrypted networks. In doing so, however, some say Consumer Watchdog went too far.
Google has fired back at Consumer Watchdog's criticism that the company
accidentally snooped on the personal WiFi networks of several members of
In May, Google admitted that it had accidentally used code, written for a
WiFi project, which caused the Google Street View vehicles used to photograph
streets and terrain to collect SSID (service set identifier) data, MAC
(media access control) addresses and "payload data" from unprotected
WiFi networks. The company has since removed the code.
Now Consumer Watchdog, a longstanding
critic of Google, is arguing that the company's actions could have recorded
communications of members of Congress involved in national security issues. To get
this information (PDF), Consumer Watchdog checked some members of Congress'
networks during the past week to see if they were vulnerable to having been
snooped by Google.
Of the five residences the Consumer Watchdog checked, Rep. Jane Harman,
chair of the Intelligence Subcommittee of the Homeland Security Committee, had a
clearly identifiable and vulnerable network, while the other four had
vulnerable networks in their vicinity that may also belong to the members of
Congress, the group said.
Consumer Watchdog has written to Harman and 18 other members of the House
Energy and Commerce Committee whose homes are pictured on Google Street View
about the issue, and is calling for immediate hearings.
In a statement, Consumer Watchdog
President Jamie Court called Google's actions
"the most massive example of wire-tapping in American history."
Court said, "Whether it's compromising government secrets or our
personal financial information, Google's unprecedented WiSpying threatens the
security of the American people and Congress owes Americans action."
However, Berin Szoka, senior fellow at the Progress & Freedom
Foundation, countered that the group was doing what it accused Google of doing.
"[Consumer Watchdog] didn't do anything wrong in how they conducted
their tests: Like Google, they were only observing information that anyone could
have observed with a WiFi device from the street," Szoka
blogged. "But that's precisely what makes their charges of 'WiSpying'
so hypocritical and silly. Indeed, they went well beyond what Google did
in actually publishing the names of Rep. Harman's unsecured networks-which
privacy watchdogs would never have forgiven Google had Google actually done
What Consumer Watchdog did was not a useful contribution to what should
be a broader online privacy debate, said Ed Black, CEO
of the Computer & Communications Industry Association.
"They detected unsecured WiFi networks that anyone, including
neighbors, can pick up," Black said in a statement. "It proves
nothing about what, if anything, a person or company like Google might have
done to intercept and record data. To follow that same logic, the fact that
everyone's Internet access provider has 24/7 access to all of their personal
and business online activities, transactions, messages and data proves nothing
about what the IAPs are actually doing to intercept, record, use or share that
A Google spokesperson told eWEEK the company already admitted it was a
mistake to include the code, but that the company did nothing illegal.
"We're continuing to work with the relevant authorities to answer their
questions and concerns," the spokesperson said.