Google's Wi-Fi Tracking Causes More Concerns

By Ben Charny  |  Posted 2006-04-26 Print this article Print

Regardless of how hard Google tries to explain its side, objections continue to surface about it and partner EarthLink's plans to build a wireless network in San Francisco.

Google and EarthLink plan to build a wireless network based on Wi-Fi, a wireless technology contained in most laptops. The two companies would offer free but ad-supported Internet access, plus a $20-per-month plan that is faster, and ad-free. The deal is awaiting approval of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

But the project has caused controversy, especially over how Google plans to track the whereabouts of those using the network.

The latest to stir the pot was a member of the San Francisco board of supervisors, which will be voting on the project in a number of weeks. He was deploring the deal as political cronyism and suggested it needs to be reworked.

About a week ago, the American Civil Liberties Union and two other San Francisco-based agencies said the plans are rife with privacy invasion problems, and asked the city to restructure the deal to appease the concerns.

For instance, the free service forces users to provide information that would let Google track their whereabouts, plus other details like an e-mail address. The geotracking, especially, could also be used by police, the letter adds.

In a statement, Google wrote that the user authentication proposed requires only an e-mail address and password and is only to prevent network abuse such as spamming.

"Google WiFi will not store the content of any of our users' online communications or data transfers and Google employees do not access the content of any communications or files users send or receive," the statement continued.

As Google has put it in the past, the geotracking is merely an advertising gimmick, not a Big Brother technique.

For more on the recently raised concerns, click here. 

The economic and social benefits of free wireless Internet access are beyond reproach, and even the harshest critics laud Google and EarthLink for their intentions. The two are now engaged, for better or worse, in the hardest part of the project: closing the deal.

How this all plays out may impact Google/EarthLink's future endeavors, and those of other municipal wireless networks in the making. |

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