Daily Archives: June 23, 2010

Google Wants Your Private Streaming Bits

Published June 23, 2010

A Google Street View vehicle in Copenhagen (Christian Johannesen/Flickr)

Massachusetts has joined the legal fray in the ongoing case of Google v. Privacy, this time with regard to those Street View cameras that capture the burning house, the kissing teenagers and, apparently, your e-mail password and other private information. Google admitted to “accidentally” capturing a lot more data than intended.

Attorney General Martha Coakley recently joined with 30 states in investigating the breach, and a Massachusetts company called Galaxy Internet Services is filing a class-action suit.

EPIC, the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, has been on the case from Day 1, having aggregated an unbelievable amount of research on Street View in 30 countries. I talked to privacy activist Marc Rotenberg, the Boston-born executive director of EPIC, about the case.

Was this really “accidental?”

“It’s a difficult question to answer, because a large part of the data collection was clearly purposeful. Google said yes, we intended to collect all the Wi-Fi information. … We weren’t intending to tell anyone. … And along the way, we may have collected more information than we needed. There’s no way you ‘accidentally’ record this kind of data in 30 countries.”

Rotenberg believes Google deliberately misled investigators about the range and amount of private data it collected.

But people left their Wi-Fi routers unencrypted — the data was there for the taking, right?

“In terms of the laws of physics, that’s correct,” Rotenberg said. “People can do that. Just like people can break into your house if they want to, because locks are not impregnable.”

In other words, it’s still illegal, he said. Rotenberg believes Google broke federal wiretapping laws. The company not only intercepted wireless data packets but stored them on hard drives.

“There’s no question that the largest search company in the world, that has pinpoint addresses and mapping functions and detailed personal information, would be able to associate you with a device … which makes the device information personally identifiable.

“From Google’s perspective, there’s no doubt that more information is better. A lot of the privacy battles have been about whether they’ve gone too far.”

A classic case of security versus convenience, I concluded, almost as an aside.

Rotenberg fired back: “I don’t believe in trade-offs. We deserve convenience and security. That’s what these laws are for.” Otherwise, he said, “we’d all have to have lead walls.”

What Is 'Texting,' Anyway?

Published June 23, 2010

Fail. (AP)

Fail. (AP)

We all do it. You and I and everyone else with a cell phone, especially a smart phone, have momentarily compromised our very lives while driving to reply to a text or switch up the iPod. If you say haven’t done it, you’re lying.

Some research shows it’s more dangerous than driving while drunk, because reaction time is slower. Other research shows that’s an exaggeration, but it’s still very dangerous. Even Oprah weighed in with her own experiment. The point is, you’re taking your eyes off the road for, like, five seconds. We know it’s dangerous. But we still do it.

Massachusetts may be late to this party, but the all-but-official texting ban is the most comprehensive I’ve seen anywhere. So maybe the letter of the law — the threat of a $500 fine and license suspension — will get us to stop. Under the state Safe Driving Act, the following would be illegal:

  • Texting while driving
  • Texting while sitting at red lights and stop signs
  • Googling, e-mailing, tweeting, Google Mapping, Shazaming while driving
  • Using the phone at all while driving, if you’re under 18

Under the proposed law, texting is shorthand for “any message that includes a keystroke entry sent between mobile electronic devices.” OK, so I can still talk on the phone while driving. But can I dial a number? How would a cop know that I’m looking up a number to call my buddy, and not sending him a WHERE U AT?

I want your confessions in the comments. Have you had any close calls? Worse, have you or your loved ones been involved in an accident because of distracted driving? We’ll share your confessions as part of a conversation today on Radio Boston.

Update: The bill cleared the Massachusetts House; on to the Senate.

Kerry On McChrystal: Chill, People

Published June 23, 2010

NECN has video of Sen. John Kerry’s remarks about the greatest story of military insubordination since Gen. MacArthur in Korea.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal is quoted disparaging the Obama administration in a Rolling Stone article (it’s up, read it).

“As far as I’m concerned, personally, the top priority is our mission in Afghanistan and our ability to proceed forward competently. It will be up to the president of the United States as commander in chief to make the decision as to whether or not he and his national security staff feel that they can do that,” Kerry said Tuesday, after speaking with McChrystal.

“All of us would be best served by just backing off, staying cool and calm, not succumbing to the normal Washington twitter about this.”

Or the Washington Twitter about this: McChrystal is a trending topic.

Update: Kerry is awfully gentle, given that McChrystal’s people accused him of “diplomatic incoherence”:

Politicians like McCain and Kerry, says another aide, “turn up, have a meeting with Karzai, criticize him at the airport press conference, then get back for the Sunday talk shows. Frankly, it’s not very helpful.”

Update: President Obama has accepted McChrystal’s resignation.