Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics (ETHI) to study Google Street View?

A study on Street Imaging Applications (Google, Canpages, etc.) has been launched by the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics (ETHI). This appears to directly follow meeting where the privacy commissioner was a witness.

As a long time privacy advocate, I have found myself increasingly at odds with the federal privacy. Part of her roll should be to help people understand the difference between information that is private, and information that is public, and for people to know how to keep information they intend to be private from being made public.

The Geodata collection by Google is just one set of examples. This is data that should be considered public information, and in an ideal world should be being collected and publicly licensed and distributed by governments.

Google, as a private company, is collecting various public data. From this we are learning that not everyone in society agrees on what constitutes public data.

  • Photographs from streets, and the images of individuals and their property (homes and vehicles) as visible from these streets.
  • Recordings of unencrypted radio broadcasts, as able to be received from these streets
  • The attachment of the above data to specific locations in space, with the assistance of GPS.

I consider this to be public data, and if people wish this to remain private then there is some onus on those individuals to make things private. I believe Google is doing a public service by making samplings of these recordings public, so that people can better understand what has always been readily available to others.

I included some commentary on the "recordings of unencrypted radio broadcasts" in the comments for Episode 106 of DyscultureD.

The summary is that I do not believe Google collecting WIFI broadcast information as part of their street recordings is a violation of privacy. This data is useful to aid devices that do not have GPS to estimate their location. If this broadcast information happens to include information intended to be private (IE: passwords/etc) then this is the fault of the sender and not the recipient. Anyone broadcasting plaintext passwords outside of their private property should be upgrading their hardware/software to stop doing this, and I feel there should be no blame attributed to the recipient who is in no way responsible for this problem.

If someone was abusing this information (IE: using publicly broadcast information to log in and impersonate someone else) then we are heading into a more grey area where the recipient is doing something wrong. While Google was reprimanded for buffering WIFI data beyond SSID and related information, and for public relations reasons they apologised, there has been no evidence made available to me of activities in relation to WIFI data that I would agree warranted Google being reprimanded.