Street View engineer warned Google in 2007

May 1, 2012
10

In the case of FCC vs Google Street View that's been going on for some weeks, months, and even years now, a "lone engineer" has been identified and called out on his role in the so-called scandal. This fellow is being called "Engineer Doe" by the FCC but has been discovered this week as being a software engineer by the name of Marius Milner by the New York Times. The importance of this man's name is a whole lot less important than his activities before the event at hand, including two separate instances where he warned Google about the capabilities and actions of his own "Wardriving" software working with Google's Street View cars.

These Street View cars are the ones that drive around snapping photos of your streets for the Google Maps Street View program. With these cars for an extended period it was found that Google was also collecting Wi-fi network names, usernames of unsecured users accessing these networks, and very possibly more than that. The man we're speaking about today created a software by the name of NetStumbler which was, to quote home, the "world's first usable 'Wardriving' application for Windows" and a "de facto wireless security tool used by hundreds of thousands of people."

This is not the same software used by Google's Street View cars, but this software does appear now to have the same capabilities. Wardriving is the act of driving around your neighborhood looking for unsecured wireless networks to access with your computer. According to an April 13th report this year, Street View cars driving between 2007 and 2010 had collected more than 200GB of "payload data" including Wi-fi information.

Engineer Doe has been named by the FCC as having at least twice told his superiors and colleagues that the payload data being collected by Street View vehicles contradicted what Google had previously stated they were collecting.

“Google made clear for the first time that Engineer Doe’s software was deliberately written to capture payload data.” - FCC

A letter written by John Simpson, privacy project director for the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog on the 30th of April spoke on this subject. It was addressed to Senator Al Franken, a proponent of getting Google to reveal what they'd actually collected here before, saying that wished Franken to grant Engineer Doe immunity from prosecution. If indeed the engineer at hand were granted immunity, he would be much more likely to testify in the case which was, as Simpson claims, "the largest wiretapping effort in history." Simpson wanted Franken and the rest of the world to know the dangers in this situation.

“The FCC order shows a troubling a portrait of a company where an engineer could run wild with software code that violates the privacy of tens of millions people worldwide, but the corporate culture of ‘Engineers First’ prevented corporate counsel or other engineers from stopping the privacy violations.” - Simpson

Have a peek at our timeline below to continue following the Street View cars around the earth, and be sure to keep up with attention here at the FCC case - it could be monumental!

[via NYTimes]


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