[LINK] Google's WiFi bungle

Richard Chirgwin rchirgwin at ozemail.com.au
Tue May 18 22:11:15 AEST 2010


At the risk of being embraced in the all-encompassing flame, do we *all* 
have to live in cliches?

There is a behavioural issue here, on the part of Google: it does, by 
reflex, live by an attitude that it's better to seek forgiveness than to 
ask permission.

The problem with how you explain your attitudes to privacy is that it 
sounds like a sophistry for blaming the victim. If the victim didn't 
understand *all* of the risks to their privacy, it's not Google's 
problem, it's the people whose networks were snooped.

The bits of the Google explanation that I specifically disbelieve are:

1. "We didn't know it was going on." Bullshit. The people who used the 
code written by someone else in the same company didn't hear words to 
the effect of "Oh, and you'll love this bit, I only need a few seconds 
to grab real packets of real user data." I don't believe for a second 
that the users of the software had no idea what it was collecting, even 
if the Google lawyers and PRs offer to drown themselves if they're wrong.

2. "We didn't intend to". Again, bullshit. See (1) for my view.

I *can* see the beat-up aspects of the story. But just because some 
pieces of a story get exaggerated doesn't mean there's no story.

My original query, I will remark, was about what I thought (and was 
corrected) was an inconsistency in the Google explanation.  I wasn't 
much buying into the main thread of the story, but since it's inspiring 
such strength of feeling, I may as well join the cacophony. I do not for 
a second believe that Google's intent was innocent; and the explanation 
on the blog is of teenage-excuse standard. If Google "only collected 
four hard drives' worth" of data, it's more likely that the sniffing 
software didn't work as well as anticipated.


Craig Sanders wrote:
> On Tue, May 18, 2010 at 05:38:08PM +1000, Stephen Wilson wrote:
>> This is a classic case of the worlds of privacy and technology being  
>> totally blind to one another.                                         
> no, it's a classic case of someone being sucked in by mainstream media
> sensationalism.
>> Craig's world view doesn't recognise privacy principles, and typical  
>> privacy policy wonks don't know how IT works.                         
> bullshit. here's a tip: disagreeing with you does not make someone
> ignorant of privacy principles or issues.
> and another tip: trying to patronisingly shove someone into the "just a
> dumb ignorant tech, out of touch with the real world" basket tends to
> piss them off.
> as anyone who's seen me post on this list before should know, i'm very
> much aware of privacy issues, because privacy is very important to me
> personally. for example, I go to great lengths to avoid getting on
> databases, and vigorously defend my right to privacy when it has been
> infringed or abused by companies - whether that abuse is technically
> against the law or not (many privacy infringements are quite legal, and
> a lot more are legal if the individual has given permission(*)....which,
> sadly, many people are more than willing to do by using Fly Buys and
> other so-called Loyalty/Rewards systems or by entering competitions)
> I can also distinguish between real privacy issues and a moronic
> media beat-up.  seems that some people here lack that basic skill.
> google's wifi scanner picked up stuff that was being publicly broadcast.
> they had no intention of doing so, it was just crap that was there. when
> they found out/were informed of this, they deleted it. it's a non-issue.
> instead of tilting at windmills, try spending your time railing
> against REAL privacy problems.
> (*) and yes, many give permission because they don't read the fine print
> and/or don't have the brains to figure out that these things are just
> ways of gathering and using information about them - e.g. "rewards"
> systems are a way around laws preventing shops from compiling purchase
> data on individuals from EFTPOS transactions - it's illegal. but it's
> quite legal IF people sign something - like a rewards club membership -
> that lets them do it.
> But many people STILL think that signing up to these things is a good
> idea even if you tell them what they're really for. they just don't
> care. or they think that the opportunity to buy a silver-plated electric
> nose-har trimmer for 100,000 points (or something equally valuable and
> useful) is adequate compensation for their privacy.
>> It's hard to see the collection by Google of wifi data including
>> paylod samples as being entirely innocent, given that company's
>> propensity to join up information and make money from it.
> you'd find that hard to see because you're ignorant of the kind of
> information that is being continuously broadcast by wifi devices and
> access points. it is, for the most part, technical gibberish (MAC
> address, SSID, and the like) that in no way identifies an individual.
> the email address you posted to the list is far more personally
> identifying than the kind of rubbish you get from scanning for wifi
> networks.
> craig

More information about the Link mailing list