Android’s backup feature means Google knows most of the world’s WiFi passwords

Brittany A. Roston - Sep 13, 2013, 9:37 pm CDT
Android’s backup feature means Google knows most of the world’s WiFi passwords

As shipment numbers have shown many times, vast quantities of the technology-using public own or have owned an Android smartphone or an Android tablet, and as such have used Google’s operating system to log onto their own and likely other WiFi networks. What isn’t so commonly known is that those WiFi passwords are stored by Google as part of its backup feature, giving Google the passwords to many of the world’s wireless networks.

As the folks over at Computerworld point out, this feature isn’t widely known because it is bundled in with Android’s settings backup feature, and until recently, it was never mentioned that WiFi passwords were parts of the backup feature. In Android 4.2, the feature under Settings > Backup and reset then lists WiFi passwords as part of the data that is stored, but earlier versions merely say “Back up my data” or “Back up my settings.”

One can find out what precisely is being backed up by digging into the Users Guide Google makes available, but such information is located in dozens — in some cases, hundreds — of pages, and not easily found. One can shut this feature off, but doing so will also cause the handset to stop storing other information, such as bookmarks, which one may find unfortunate.

There is an upside to this, of course, being that upgrading devices is easy, with one’s data being shuttled to the new device without fanfare. The downside is the potential loss of privacy, however. It is no secret that the government has both hands in the public’s personal data, and that despite legal procedures that are supposed to protect users’ information, such has not stopped the acquisition of citizens’ data.

If legally compelled to, it is entirely possible that Google could be strong-armed into providing the wireless passwords it has stored for a specific Google user, allowing law enforcement or government entities to access a network, no hacking or erstwhile means necessary.

SOURCE: Computer World

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