Update 3: The short answer is yes and yes, but not without your approval for each. Read on if you want the full story.
By now, you may know that each attendee of Google IO (@googleio) received a limited edition Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.
This is a great tablet, slimmer, lighter and seemingly better constructed than the Motorola XOOM, which I’ve also used and liked. After doing an initial setup with my Google Account on Tuesday while tethered to my EVO, I packed the Tab up for further experimentation later.
This afternoon, I broke the Tab out again to continue configuring it. One of the first steps you take with any new device is to put it on your wifi.
Much to my surprise, the Tab was already connected to my wifi, despite that fact that I never explicitly told it to do so.
And the fact that my SSID is hidden.
And the fact that my network is WPA2 encrypted.
Now, I could be missing something obvious here, but this feels a lot like Google attached my wifi information and credentials to my Google Account. How else could a pristine device know to find my hidden network and have the credentials to connect to it?
I figured this had to be my mistake.
So, I did a factory reset and walked through the same steps, i.e. doing the initial association with my Google Account with the Tab tethered to my EVO.
Sure enough, when I went into wifi settings, my network appeared in the list of networks with the status “Remembered, secured with WPA/WPA2 PSK,” and I was able to connect to it without providing any network credentials.
Thinking back, I’ve done a couple data wipes on my EVO to apply CyanogenMod (@cyanogen), and I don’t recall being asked for wifi credentials, at least not the last time, which was last week.
I’m not one to get all upset with privacy issues; I usually enter service provider agreements with eyes open, but this is definitely not something Google should have, especially after last year’s debacle with Street View cars collecting wifi information. This is worse though because those were said to be open networks, and mine is encrypted.
So, I did some digging, ironically enough by Googling.
As with many technical questions and problems, the intertubes had a possible answer, that sticky location collection issue again. When you agree to the location service of Android, which helps target searches and other location-based services, Google saves information about the routers you connect to, even those that are secured or hidden.
There’s no mention of saving credentials, though, and I didn’t find my router’s MAC address in Samy Kamdar’s android map, which shows routers that have been mapped.
Still, I thought it might be location. Testing this theory, I turned off the location services, and told Android to forget my network. After a restart to clear any caching, my network was again invisible, and when I connected, I was prompted for the password.
Not fully convinced, I figured the big test would be turning off location and walking through the configuration steps again. As a test, I did not tell it to forget my tethered network though, just to see if what Google knew about location before I turned it off would persist.
Sure enough, my EVO’s tethered network remained in the wifi list after the factory wipe, but my home network was gone.
I’m not a big terms reader, but I think I’d better start paying more attention. When I agreed to location services, I didn’t think that meant my routers would be tracked and possibly their credentials stored. That’s not good.
In Google’s defense, I could be wrong or missing something obvious. If so, happy to retract.
If not, this is a bummer, and I’m pretty sure most people would agree.
Find the comments and let me know your thoughts.
Update: According to Rich (@rmanalan), this may be a feature of Google Sync, but I can’t find any documentation that it stores your wifi information, including credentials. *If* it does, this feels like a security no-no for unsuspecting networks that allow people with Google Sync onto their networks. Still looking for information.
Update 2: The comments confirm that this is part of the backup option within the Android Privacy settings. I’m glad this isn’t part of the location service, which would have made it a nasty side-loaded feature. The options could be more granular, as Matt (@topperge) suggests. This is a nice feature for me, now that I understand how it works; the vagueness bothered me. The only thing left is the storage of credentials for networks you don’t control. That could be an issue, since the credentials are stored without the knowledge of the network owner and sometimes without the knowledge of the wifi user.