Google location tracking can invade privacy, hackers say

If you’ve got a Wi-Fi network, chances are Google has used its top-selling Android mobile operating system to store your router’s precise location and broadcast it for all the world to see.

Google has been compiling the publicly accessible database of router locations in its quest to build a service, a la Skyhook, that pinpoints the exact location of internet users who use its sites. Now, hobbyist hacker Samy Kamkar has developed a site that demonstrates just how comprehensive Google’s catalog is.

Plug the MAC address of your router into Kamkar’s website, and chances are it will pull up its precise location, courtesy of Google Maps.

In October, Google pledged to stop using its world-roving Street View vehicles to collect Wi-Fi data and said it instead would rely on Android handsets to get the information. When phones running the Google OS detect any wireless network, they beam its MAC address, signal strength and GPS coordinates to Google servers, along with the unique ID of the handset.

Google has long given assurances that it will use the geolocation database only when users give their explicit consent, such as when they want to be spared the hassle of typing in their current address when getting driving directions. But Kamkar has demonstrated at least two hacks that allow operators of unscrupulous websites to pilfer the information from Google’s database anyway, allowing them to know the precise whereabouts of vulnerable visitors.

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