Google Scanning for Your Mac Address?

What exactly is Google up to? That's the question some may ask based on recent news that the search giant's Street View cars are scanning private WLAN networks. Although there's no word if Google is conducting its invasion of privacy here in the States, German officials have discovered that the automobiles are not only scanning consumer-based networks, but is possibly obtaining users' unique Mac addresses in the process.

Naturally, this has ruffled a few feathers, especially Germany's Federal Commissioner for Data Protection Peter Schaar who said that he's simply "horrified" by the discovery. He's worried about the implications of Google's acquired information, especially when the various pieces of data are connected to identify each individual residing on the Internet.

According to The Register, German broadcaster ARD is already requesting that Google shut down its local Street View project."I am appalled… I call upon Google to delete previously unlawfully collected personal data on the wireless network immediately and stop the rides for Street View," said the ARD.

Currently Google has not launched Street View in Germany, nor has it published the WLAN map. As Softpedia points out, Google has always said that it was scanning for Wi-Fi networks and mobile phone relays with Street View cars. Supposedly the data collected by the scanners would help consumers find the nearest Internet hotspot. What wasn't apparent was that the Street View cars would scan neighborhoods as well.

Should Germany be concerned over the WLAN scanning? Every nation should be concerned, especially after Google CEO Eric Schmidt said that Internet users shouldn't worry about privacy unless they have something to hide.

Kevin started taking PCs apart in the 90s when Quake was on the way and his PC lacked the required components. Since then, he’s loved all things PC-related and cool gadgets ranging from the New Nintendo 3DS to Android tablets. He is currently a contributor at Digital Trends, writing about everything from computers to how-to content on Windows and Macs to reviews of the latest laptops from HP, Dell, Lenovo, and more. 

  • brendano257
    Well assuming that Skynet has full control by 2018, I think they're right about on track.....
  • anamaniac
    Well, I actually like street view, and I have used it a few times (looking at a place I may have rented).
    However, scanning Mac addresses? Why?
  • perzy
    I guess they soon adds "or else" to their slogan...
  • hoof_hearted
    Quick, everyone change their SSID to g00gleisWatching
  • crom
    I'm going to change mine to di-eG-oo-gl-e!
  • borisof007
    Key here people is "but is possibly obtaining users' unique Mac addresses in the process". POSSIBLY. Doesn't mean that they actually are. Maybe we should do some fact checking on google's end first, yes?
  • jenesuispasbavard
    My phone's GPS unit (when using Ovi Maps) can get a lock more quickly if it finds a nearby wireless network with a known access point location. Maybe this is why they're scanning (faster GPS lock when using Google Maps).
  • imspecial
    I wouldn't be opposed to the whole "public" wifi hotspots, but neighborhoods? When does Mac addresses have anything to do with internet hotspots anyyways?!
  • igot1forya
    MAC addresses on most wireless routers can be changed (clone mode for example), I would be more concerned about Google sharing SSID's, except you can hide that as well.
  • hellwig
    Mac Addresses are how hardware talks to each other. You can't connect to a wireless hotspot without addressing your traffic to the routers MAC address. Therefore, scanning for open networks will no doubt involve retrieving the routers MAC address. Whether or not Google stores that MAC address is another matter.

    As I see it, there are two options here:

    A) an open network is an open network, and Google's car's aren't going to know the difference between Starbucks and some moron who doesn't lock-down his router. And even with a locked-down router, if the router broadcasts its presence, people will know its MAC address.

    b) google is obtaining this information so it knows exactly where you are at, and will be able to localize searches not just to your city but to your front yard. "Google has found 18347 results for 'furry animal farm escapades' in your neighborhood."