In a blog post late last week, Google admitted to collecting data sent across unprotected public wireless networks while collecting photos for their Street View feature on Google Maps. Naturally, this has caused a nice uproar from privacy advocates. Many have been asking for Google’s proverbial head on a platter for this outrageous injustice. Only problem is, their fingers are pointed at the wrong party.
When you connect to a public wireless network, especially one that is unprotected (read unencrypted), anything you send and receive is viewable by anyone with the proper tools and/or software. This means that anyone, be it a person or an business entity can see what you’re sending across the open network. This is why when you do connect to such networks, it is a good idea to not do anything like connect to your bank or do anything you wouldn’t want others to potentially know about. It doesn’t mean that someone is definitely watching your data fly across their screen, but you should act like someone is.
As users, it is our responsibility to ensure your data’s protected, not anyone else’s. We are the one’s that must take the precautions, because once it’s on the network it’s out there for others to see. You don’t want someone seeing your private conversations over an open wireless network? Encrypt the conversation, there are plenty of tools that help you to encrypt your data. There are ways to set up virtual private networks (VPN) at your home so you can connect securely to that and then do what you’d like because it’s all coming through your encrypted connection to your home’s network. There are tools for encrypting your email (Thunderbird comes with the plugin installed by default).
Again, as user’s it is our responsibility to ensure our data is protected. So the privacy groups need to stop pointing fingers and instead work on educating the end user about this. If the privacy groups spent as much time educating as they did finger pointing, people would be more aware of the situation and know what steps they can take to protect their data both at home and abroad.