Google’s latest wheeze: Work out these blurry house numbers for us

Google, the pride of open everything, uses real blurry house number images as its Captchas, so that the general public can tell them what the number really is.

An openly available image of Sergey Brin in the open air.(Credit: Google+,Sergey Brin)

I have spent much of the day blurry-eyed, moved by Google’s Sergey Brin declaring his company the only great defender of the open Web.

The tears have, it has come to my attention, mainly emerged from laughter at Google’s sweet, thoughtful gall that everything it claims the world desires just happens coincidentally to benefit it commercially.

Still, no sooner had my eyes dried a little when the Telegraph offered me Google’ latest exemplar of sheer, beautiful openness.

For it seems that Google is using real images from Street View as security checks. Yes, if you want to access your own Google account, the company is asking you to decipher a slightly blurry image of a real house number.

It seems that if enough people decide on a particular number, then Google sharpens up the image on Street View.

Yes, you are being asked to work for Google, Openly. For free. And if you don’t, well, you may not be able to access your own Google account.

The Telegraph naturally declares that certain privacy groups are foaming at the lips on hearing of this little scheme — which, according to a Google spokesman, only occurs in 10 percent of security questions.

But surely some people, on hearing of this and Google being fined $25,000 by the FCC for, um, non-compliance with its inquiry into Wi-Fi eavesdropping, might feel that openness has a highly subjective definition in Google’s complex collective cranium.

Google’s version of the open Web seems very simple: let us get at everything. Whether it’s books, streets, houses, Facebook accounts, iPhoto accumulations or perhaps even the remains of your spaghetti bolognese.

Something is open if Google can see it and scrape it. And when Google sees it and scrapes it, it can create a fuller picture of every element of your life — just in case, you know, some lonely advertiser might pass by and show interest.

Some might call this freedom. There again, doesn’t freedom sometimes entail being free not to let rapacious, baby-faced organizations peer into your life?

Chris Matyszczyk is an award-winning creative director who advises major corporations on content creation and marketing. He brings an irreverent, sarcastic, and sometimes ironic voice to the tech world. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET.

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FCC Proposes:Fine for Google Wi-Fi snooping ‘obstruction’

By TheStreet Staf

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission has proposed fining Google(GOOG_) $25,000 for obstructing an investigation into the company’s collection of data from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks in 2010, according to a published media report.

 Although the FCC has decided there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the data collection violated federal rules, the commission said Google deliberately impeded the investigation, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

The probe looked at whether Google broke rules designed to prevent electronic eavesdropping when its Street View service collected and stored the data from the Wi-Fi networks, the newspaper reported.

The FCC proposed the fine late Friday night, the Journal said.

Google may appeal the proposed fine before the commission makes it final, the Journal said. The company has said that it inadvertently collected the data and stopped doing so when it realized what was going on, the newspaper added.

Shares of Google closed Friday down $26.41 at $624.60.

FCC proposes fine for Google Wi-Fi snooping case ‘obstruction’

By Zack Whittaker

Summary: The U.S. FCC has proposed a $25,000 fine after Google “impeded and delayed” an investigation into collecting wireless payload data from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is proposing a $25,000 fine against Google for “deliberately impeded and delayed” an ongoing investigation into whether it breached federal laws over its street-mapping service, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The FCC initiated an investigation in 2010 after Google collected and stored payload data from unencrypted wireless networks as part of its Google Maps Street View service. Its intended use, Google says, was to build up a list of Wi-Fi network hotspots to aid geolocation services on mobile devices through ‘assisted-GPS.

The U.S. followed suit after many European countries, including Germany, which has some of the strictest data protection and privacy laws in the world. But the European nation went one step further and told Google to withdraw its Street View cars from the country altogether.

Google also drew fire from the UK’s data protection agency after it was told it committed a “significant breach” of the UK and European data lawswhen it collected wireless data from home networks. It was audited by the regulator and was told it “must do more” to improve its privacy policies. Google said it had taken “reasonable steps” to further protect the data of its users and customers.

But the FCC stopped short of accusing Google of directly violating data interception and wiretapping laws, citing lack of evidence. The federal communications authority did not fine the company under eavesdropping laws, as there is no set precedent for applying the law against ‘fair-game’ unencrypted networks.

The FCC took the action after it believed Google was reluctant to co-operate with the authorities after the scandal emerged. An FCC statement added that a Google engineer thought to have written the code that collected the data invoked his Fifth Amendment rights to prevent self-incrimination.

Google can appeal the fine. Despite the fine being a mere fraction of the company’s U.S. annual turnover, not doing so until its legal avenues are exhausted would almost be an admittance of guilt.

The search giant eventually offered an opt-out mechanism for its location database by adding text to the networks’ router name. But further controversy was drawn after another Silicon Valley company offered an opt-out only solution.

Facebook also drew fire from the regulators after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission allowed the social networking giant to settle, allowing users to opt-in to its sharing privacy settings, rather than opting-out; seen as a major win for U.S. users’ privacy on the site.

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