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Google Street View's Wi-Fi Snooping Engineer is Outed

The Times says it uncovered Marius Milner's identity through a state investigator who was involved in a separate inquiry into Street View.

UPDATED: 2nd May 2012

The engineer who wrote the code causing Google's Street View cars to capture unencrypted Wi-Fi traffic in several countries has been identified, according to an online report. Marius Milner, currently a software engineer for Google's YouTube, was the person responsible for creating Street View's Wi-Fi traffic recording software, The New York Times is reporting. The Times said it uncovered Milner's identity through a former state investigator who was involved in a separate inquiry into Google Street View. Milner also appears to be the creator of NetStumbler, a security application for Windows PCs that lets users optimize their wireless network and plug up any potential security holes.

The Street View engineer's identity has become a hot topic in recent days after Google released a copy of an FCC investigation suggesting Google employees knew Street View cars were data snooping on open Wi-Fi networks. Google had previously stated that it unintentionally collected data from unprotected Wi-Fi networks all over the globe capturing snippets of e-mails, instant messages, web browsing and other online activity.

How It All Started

Google's Wi-Fi woes started in 2010 after the company received a request from Germany's data protection authority to audit the information that Street View cars collected. As part of the project, Google was recording publicly available identifying information from Wi-Fi routers around the world in order to create a router location database to help improve the accuracy of location-based services for Android phones and other Google products. But the search giant also said its cars had mistakenly collected fragments of user data in the process.

The company claimed it had mostly collected data fragments, but an investigation in France said Google's data snooping cache did include whole passwords and entire e-mail messages. In early 2011, Google was fined about $142,000 by the French government over Street View's Wi-Fi data collection, and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission followed suit in April, slapping the search giant with a $25,000 fine. The FCC also determined that Google's Wi-Fi data collection was not illegal, disappointing privacy advocates such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Privacy Information Center. The FCC said Google's actions were not illegal since it was only capturing unencrypted data.

Despite the FCC's findings, critics are still calling for Google to be held accountable for its actions. On Tuesday, Consumer Watchdog, a frequent Google critic, called on the Senate's privacy committee to hold a hearing over Google's Wi-Fi data collection debacle.

UPDATE: 2nd May 2012. A Google spokesperson contacted PC Advisor about this article and provided the following statement:

“We decided to voluntarily make the entire document available except for the names of individuals. While we disagree with some of the statements made in the document, we agree with the FCC's conclusion that we did not break the law. We hope that we can now put this matter behind us”.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul) on Twitter and Google+, and with Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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