While it doesn't quite rank up there with dumping hundreds of millions of gallons of crude oil into the ocean while your CEO goes yachting, Google's huge Wi-Fi spying "oops" may become the search giant's BP moment.
To recap: Last month, Google admitted that its Street View vans -- the camera-festooned vehicles that roam highways and byways to capture panoramas of every paved thoroughfare on the planet -- were also slurping up data from unprotected Wi-Fi networks. For three years. All around the globe. Without anyone (including Google) being aware of it.
[ Also on InfoWorld: Is anyone trying to protect your data? Certainly not Facebook or AT&T, as Cringely points out | Stay up to date on all Robert X. Cringely's observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]
The idea was to use open Wi-Fi nets as location signposts for mobile users -- they're more accurate than cell towers and work better indoors than GPS. The idea was not to also capture data being transmitted along with the locations. But that's what happened.
So Google's data slurping was not intentional. It was, however, incredibly stupid and probably illegal in many of the countries where Google operates. That may now include the United States, if recent data collected by the French National Commission on Computing and Liberty proves accurate.
According to the French, Google may have captured user passwords and email along with the location information. I'm no lawyer, but that sounds like it could be enough to violate multiple state and federal limits on surreptitious data gathering.
It's certainly enough to prompt Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to announce a multistate investigation into Google's data collection habits. Hell hath no fury like a passel of state AGs in an election year, especially when their target isn't part of their constituency -- don't expect this to fade into obscurity any time before November.