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That snippet of the NYT story omits critical context: The data they captured were random wifi packets (probably for use in Skyhook-type location fixes by way of mapping out where APs are). Sounds like they were doing the equivalent of a wardrive and captured more than the AP advertisement message.

This is information that Google doesn't have any need for (noise) and didn't want in the first place.

They also self-reported the failure, where they could have just nuked it and we wouldn't be having this conversation.

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