The Seattle Times editorial board comments on the issue of Google collecting Wi-Fi data with its Google Street View vehicles.
“WHO was harmed? Name the person.” So said Google CEO Eric Schmidt several weeks ago in regard to the company’s vacuuming of data from wireless local area networks. Schmidt may be right technically, but the words are not comforting, either about the wireless boom or about Google.
The issue involves Google Street View, which provides photos taken from the street. The vehicles that took the photos also had instruments to detect and probe Wi-Fi networks, the “hot spots” where a computer, a mobile phone or other wireless devices can be connected to the Internet without a wire.
Mapping where people can go online creates no privacy problem. Tapping into what they are doing online does.
The French government looked at Google’s data and reported that it had captured passwords for medical services and banking. Google said it had not done anything with the data and was willing to erase it. In several cases, it is forbidden to erase it because governments want to look at it, to see if Google broke the law.
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We do not want governments snooping into what people are doing online any more than we want Google doing it. Erase the data.
For Google, the lesson is clear. Pay attention to what you do. If this project was merely a mistake, it went on in a lot of places for a long time.
To Google’s slogan, “Don’t be evil,” one might add the motto of former IBM boss Thomas Watson: “Think.”
There is a lesson for wireless users, too. If you’re on the Internet typing in passwords, bank card numbers, a Social Security number — do it over a heavily encrypted connection. If you are not sure how good the encryption is, use a wire line.