[LINK] Google's WiFi bungle

Stephen Wilson swilson at lockstep.com.au
Wed May 19 15:08:05 AEST 2010

Kim Holburn wrote:
> Sorry I think that a lot of "technologists" are aware of the issues.
I'm sure you're right.  But I think it is fair to characterise a "gulf" 
between IT and privacy (allowing for some sweeping generalisations in 
those labels) when numerous IT specialists on this list and elsewhere 
state erroneously over and over again that because the wifi information 
was "public", it was not subject to privacy law.  Simply, they are 
wrong.  Simply, in the laws of Germany and Australia, unless they have 
consent, Google is not permitted to collect personally identifiable 
information [from wifi transmissions or anywhere else] without a clear 
purpose, without letting people know, and without constraints on the 
secondary use they will put that information to.
> One of the many questions here would be: does wifi information  
> constitute personal information?  I think you can definitely argue it  
> doesn't (mostly).  
"Think", "can", "argue", "mostly" ... What is your actual position? ;-)

My position is that the information collected from wifi networks by 
Google should be treated cautiously as personal information, because it 
is almost certainly identifiable, through linking to Google's vast data 
sets.  Information Privacy law generally hinges on whether the identity 
of the subject is 'apparent' or may be 'readily determined' (and yes 
there is some room for interpretation there). 
> Does the law (of whatever country) forbid the  
> *collection* of personal information?  How would companies work under  
> that sort of regime?  How could they keep track of their customers?   
> What exceptions are there?  
It's all in the Privacy Act. 
> For instance how do telephone book makers make telephone books?  
I predict that when you sign up for a phone, you explicitly consent for 
your name and address to be published. 
> Telephone numbers and addresses would generally  
> not be public information except in that they are published in the  
> telephone book or by their owners.  In some countries phone numbers  
> are considered public information and in some limited public  
> information and in some not.  It's definitely not simple.
> You argue as though this is simple and clear cut.  I do not think that  
> is so at all.
Well, it certainly is a lot more clear cut when we use the technically 
correct terms.  Instead of "public information" and "private 
information" please note that the operable term is "personal 
information" meaning information about a subject where their identity is 
apparent or may be readily determined. 

> Tell me, is an advertisement on someone's property in plain view  
> private information?
I'm not sure what you mean by "private information".  The information 
privacy law that I am familiar with doesn't use language like that.  It 
uses the clinical, unloaded phrase "personal information". 


Steve Wilson.

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