Google in a bit of bother over “WiSpy” allegations

Google and its recent data harvesting operations have made headline material in the past few days. In case you weren’t aware, Google owns Street Cars which, equipped with a recording contraption, roam the roads of our neighbourhoods collating images to produce incredibly accurate Google map street views. I’m sure most will agree that this is a valuable use of data; I for one love this navigation aid and reluctantly admit my over reliance on it.

Google is watching us all
 However, it seems that Google’s Street Cars have been taking more than just road names; it has emerged that the recording device has also picked up e-mails, passwords and other sensitive personal information from the WiFi networks of unaware households as the cars drive by, prompting the term “WiSpy”.

This controversial act has created much debate. The harvesting itself is not illegal, as the data was collected from public property which has technically been cast out into everybody’s view. 

This Computing world blog post takes a “If you don’t want people to see into your house close the curtains” stance and defends Google’s actions. The author believes that the response to “WiSpy” is an irrational hysteria and places the
ownership of data protection on the user.

On the other hand, This Guardian post sees Google’s actions as a severe breach of public trust, which has only been exacerbated by the corporation’s poor handling of the matter. The Google team’s delay in assisting with enquiries was a poor PR move which left the company with a $25,000 fine and an incoherent stance about the intentions behind what had happened. 

Right or wrong, the fact of the matter is that Google’s brand perception has been negatively influenced by this news. The way we see it, the impact has been leveraged by three major underlying problems:

1.    People don’t have extensive understanding of the technology they use. A lot of anxiety exists around web based applications. The fact that users are constantly bombarded with news about internet fraud does not help either. Users do place a lot of trust in service providers and indirectly task them with keeping their data secure, so when that trust is breached, consumers’ perception of safety is dented. 

2.     The WiSpy allegations case has a chronic lack of transparency. Perhaps if Google would has told customers that they were collecting the data and outlined what it was they were going to do with the data there wouldn’t have been such public outcry.

3.    Google’s slow response time did not reflect the public’s urgency in understanding the situation.

These key three points can be applied to all business, and are particularly relevant to technical PR. Aiding understanding, leveraging transparency and rapid response to crisis situations - are all within the scope of a good communications campaign. 

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Lorien Perry - Stone Junction

Stone Junction is a cool technical PR agency based in Stafford. We work for all sorts of businesses, with a particular focus on technology, technical and engineering companies. We like being sent cake and biscuits by clients, journalists and prospects.

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