The FYI on the WiFi

Google has made public it’s letter to the city of San Fransisco (PDF file download) regarding security concerns raised on it’s plans to implement city-wide free WiFi.

It very much follows Google’s general privacy policy (new window) and basically doesn’t really tell you what they will do with the specific data that they will store on each user who uses the service. They will collect and store usage data and other information on each user for up to 180 days, and thereafter store aggregated non-user specific usage data for the service. They will use a person’s position in the city to provide localised targetted advertising – a great thing when in need, but a dangerous weapon for missuse.

They will, for instance, share data with subsiduries and ‘other trusted businesses or persons’ for processing personal information on Google’s behalf. Who are these trusted businesses or persons…and what personal information needs to be processed? They have said they will divulge personal user’s information for legal matters without notifying the user, if it is thought to impede an ongoing investigation.

While these parameters are broad and can easily leave the end user with personal information being shown to a number of parties, we must also remember that Google is a business and is providing the service for free. It puts them in a tough position being the watchdog on all it’s users across the city, and what to do with that information. If they realise that a particular user has been searching and accessing information on how to make a bomb…should they inform the authorities?

However, this is nothing new. Google knew exactly what problems it would face regarding privacy issues, and what problems it currently faces – yet is keen to go ahead with the plan. Why? Sure their plan to digitise and organise the world’s information to make it easily accessible for everyone is a great idea – but who says they should have the power and control over that information?

“Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so.”

Gore Vidal (1925 – )

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