Chris Dziemborowicz, a lawyer and blogger, writes at NewMatilda.com about his concerns over Google’s recent indiscretions when it comes to the collecting and storing of WiFi data by its StreetView vehicles; a view that another blogger, zielwolf‘ argues is “collective luddite paranoia and melodrama”. I would like to suggest that zielwolf’s attitude to privacy is somewhat caviller. My response, posted on NewMatilda.com, is below.
I cannot help think that when zielwolf states “[w]hat Google is doing here is analogous to someone walking around collecting addresses” he is fundamentally mistaken about the seriousness of the issue.
As Dziemborowicz states in his piece, Google admitted to collecting not just WiFi identifiers but also, where networks were unsecured, data sent across these networks. To further zielwolf’s analogy, this is more akin to collecting not just street addresses but also some small pieces of the content of the mail contained within the letterbox at these address. As with the mail in one’s letterbox, this information has the potential be of a particularly sensitive nature.
Secondly, and this is a point that Dziemborowicz also misses, is that notwithstanding Google’s assurances of the limited nature of the information collected, the accidental nature in which it was collected, or its assurances of its intention to destroy this information, Google not only posses the immense computing power that would enable this information to be utilised in ways that we, as as owners of this information, may not be comfortable with; it is also an organisation that is based on, and derives its primary income from, using precisely these small pieces of data in order to provide marketing and advertising services. Google is a corporation and as such it exists to make money. It does this, not by providing you services, but providing them to people who want to know about, and market to you. This is a point that is often lost when discussing privacy in the electronic age.
And finally, zielwolf’s assertion that this is only an issue for those who have not bothered to secure properly their WiFi networks is also a straw man. This argument is not only based upon the assumption that we all possess the technical ability to know how to do this but also that we this to be an issue in the first place. It further assumes that all societies operate within the same technical and social internet paradigm that we do here in Australia. Google is an international corporation and as Dziemborowicz points out these same issues have been raised by privacy advocates in other jurisdictions. Notwithstanding other arguments about network security, internet access in other countries, by and large, does not operate within the same download and bandwidth limitations that we do. This removes the economic driver that zielwolf suggests drives us to secure WiFi networks so that others can use them. The result is that in other parts of the world there are many more open WiFi networks that we find here.
I would like to suggest that Dziemborowicz is rightly concerned about privacy issues within the electronic age, albeit not concerned enough.