Google Wi-Fi Deal Gains Powerful Critics

Updated: San Francisco politicians and the ACLU ask the city to rethink its Wi-Fi deal with Google and Earthlink.

A member of San Franciscos board of supervisors said he has some objections to the citys tentative plans to let Google and Earthlink jointly build a citywide wireless network.

San Francisco Supervisor Jake McGoldrick is concerned about how much actual public input there will be with the deal, and how quickly its gaining the favor of key city figures.

Its unclear just what impact McGoldricks opposition will have. Terms of the contract between the city and partners Google, of Mountain View, Calif., and Earthlink, of Atlanta, are being finalized now. Its also far in advance of any possible board of supervisors vote.

/zimages/1/28571.gifRead more here about how Google/Earthlink won San Franciscos heart.

McGoldricks is the most powerful of the voices raised so far against a plan by Google and Earthlink 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 supervisors view was made clear about a week after the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) of Northern California, and two other San Francisco-based groups, asked the city to structure the final contract to appease their concerns about user privacy.

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. But in practice, there is a number of possible privacy concerns, the three groups told the city.

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.

/zimages/1/28571.gifRead more here about how the premium version may also contain ads.

Google/Earthlink defenders say the argument is overblown. And, the tracking is just to serve up better, more focused ads that will make advertisers happy, thus keeping the free service up and running.

The city tapped the Google/Earthlink proposal over others from Cisco Systems of San Jose, Calif., IBM of Armonk, N.Y., and other high-profile competitors.

McGoldricks contentions were reported by ComputerWorld, and later confirmed via a McGoldrick spokesman.

In response to an inquiry about the opposition, a Google representative wrote about how early it is in the planning stages, but that privacy remains "of utmost importance."

Some of the practices proposed, and the subject of the objections, are there "to prevent network abuse such as spamming," the representative wrote.

Editors Note: This story was updated to add comments from a Google representative.

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