It has never been a secret that Google and partner EarthLink intend to track the whereabouts of people using a free wireless network the companies want to build in San Francisco.
But the reality of what that means struck home this week when a key city committee tapped the partnership to actually build the network.
From Google's perspective, geotracking is all about advertising.
Google and EarthLink intend to let people use the network for free. Operating costs will be defrayed by advertising that'll be a fixture on consumers' Web browsers.
Because the network is based upon Wi-Fi, a popular wireless technology, Google can figure out the location of someone that's logged on. It can then serve up ads for businesses within a few feet of the consumer. That's about as targeted as advertising can get.
Google/EarthLink assure city officials that the location information will be used just to serve up ads. Plus, the info will be kept under a tight virtual lock and key.
It seems reasonable to assume a lot of people won't really care that Google knows their whereabouts, or figure it's the tradeoff for using a free service, just like the ads that accompany Google's free Internet search results.
What remains to be seen is the reaction of those who feel Google already knows too much about them. The fact that Google can now determine their location within about 100 feet of accuracy may be the straw that breaks a few people's backs.
A litmus tests for all this is in Mountain View, Calif., where Google's testing a Wi-Fi network similar to the one it and EarthLink intend to build in San Francisco. In Mountain View, there's nary a ruckus.
For those who might get up in arms, there are plenty of free wireless networks floating around San Francisco. Sponge off your neighbor's Wi-Fi network for a while.