The Google Guy Who Snooped for Wireless Data Was a 'God' Among Engineers

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That "rogue engineer" who collected personal information over wireless networks via Google's Street View cars has been identified in today's New York Times as Marius Milner, the creator of wireless detection software NetStumblr. Milner, who had previously only been identified as Engineer Doe in the controversy, collected masses of data, including email addresses, passwords and search history, while gathering information about wireless networks to improve location based searches. He even went around bragging about it to his Google colleagues, which makes sense given he was a rockstar in the community of technologists working with wireless. As one colleague describes on Milner's LinkedIn. "Marius and I worked together in regards to his Netstumbler Software but due to NDA's, I'm not allowed to speak about what I did," writes John K. "He has revolutionized the wireless community with his software and allowed many companies to use his software to their advantage to make sure they have a secure wireless network. He is a GOD in the wireless community." Google, of course, knew of his prestige when they selected him for the job, making this data collection "side project" seem all the more suspicious.

NetStumblr is a wireless detection software, which can pick up LAN signals, but is also used for "wardriving," where people drive around trying to pick up wireless signals, which is exactly why Google "tapped" Milner for this project. Before the Street View cars set off to map the world and sneakily collect WiFi data, Milner worked as a software engineer at the YouTube branch of Google, a completely separate part of the organization, says his LinkedIn. Though he had spent five years at Google doing other software engineering things, for the last three years he worked at the video subsidiary. Yet, given Milner's "wardriving" expertise, Google selected him for Street View. 

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Though "wardriving" doesn't necessarily involve nefarious activities -- the act ranges from measuring WiFi, to collecting personal info -- Google specifically chose Milner, a man who describes his occupation as "hacker" and claims on his LinkedIn "I know more than I want to about Wi-Fi," for the already suspect aspect of the Street View project. "Google tapped Engineer Doe," explains the FCC report, per The Times. The FCC has since decided that Google's "wardriving" wasn't illegal, as the company didn't know about it (Google claims) and stopped once it found out in 2010. 

However, this Milner info all makes Google, which at first said it knew nothing about the data collection aspect of the project, look like it had sneaky motives all along. Google had called the "wardriving" a side project of Milner's. However, it has since come out that many Google employees knew about the data collection. And that the whole Street View project recieved approval from company lawyers without considering privacy concerns.

Milner only spoke briefly on his Palo Alto doorstep for the Times's Steve Lohr and David Streitfeld's piece. They write, "Depicting his actions as the work of a rogue 'requires putting a lot of dots together,' Mr. Milner said enigmatically Sunday before insisting again he had no comment." 

Over the last year, Google has started to look less like its corporate slogan of "don't be evil" when it comes to its data collection practices.  First with Social Search and a new privacy policy, Google has lost a lot of its user love in its attempts to make its products more useful and valuable. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.