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April 10, 2006

Google and Earthlink Team to Build SF Wi-Fi Net

Google and Earthlink are teaming up to build a "free" Wi-Fi network in San Francisco, but not everyone is cheering.  Given the old axiom that there is no such thing as a free lunch, Google is proving it by tracking users to within a few hundred feet of businesses and serving up ads to their machines.  If that's not scary enough, the company plans to keep the data for up to 180 days before deleting it.  Goggle will require a Google login to access the service.  Earthlink intends to provide a pay-for version of the service that offers faster and higher bandwidth.

This has set the Electronic Frontier Foundation a bit on edge over the (lack of) privacy implications.  Their concern is the cumulative data on user locations will set off a data mining spree on the part of law enforcement and private investigators, and just plain erode the privacy concerns of individuals.  San Francisco is known as one of the most liberal cities in America where the rights of the people are valued much higher than the business of corporations.  The attitude is so prevalent that it drew a wicked parody in a recent episode of South Park.  But that's another story.

The San Francisco Chronicle quotes a citizen or two as not being too concerned over the tracking element of free access.  The city's executive director of its technology department said that privacy was a factor in selecting a bidder.  The contract has yet to be worked out as to details and has yet to be approved by the Board of Supervisors, the equivalent of a city counsel.  Unlike some aldermanic bodies that act as a rubber stamp to city management (are you listening Chicago?), the Board is very active in governing the city.  It should be interesting when the Board members get around to the details.

There is some decided contrast to this approach to Internet access compared to the early days.  The famous cartoon of a dog in front of a computer with the caption "On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog" should now read "On the Internet, not only do we know you're a dog, we know what kind of dog you are, what's your gender, what you like to eat, who owns you, who you hang out with, where you go for walks, what you do on your stops, what your last 5 addresses are, what your shopping habits are, your eBay and/or PayPal account is about to be suspended, and would you like some Viagra, etc."  The things we've grown to put up with for access to the web.

The Chronicle's story is here.

April 10, 2006 | Permalink

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