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Say It Ain’t So Google

As I wrote about the other week, Google’s been under a lot of heat for collecting too much wifi data when wardriving around in their Street View cars to amass their database of wifi fingerprints in order to figure out where people are for both the benefit of their consumers and advertisers without having to rely on carriers and GPS. Google came forward and said that the hard drives in the cars were recording not just access point SSIDs but packets transmitted to and from those access points and devices and computers connected to them, insisting that it was an honest mistake and that they were cooperating with governments, their law enforcement agencies and independent auditors, yada yada yada, to expunge the data in a manner that makes everyone happy.

I believed them, naturally, so I stuck my neck out asking you all to give them a pass on this, and at least one of you acquiesced. Mission accomplished.

But now, Slashdot is reporting that Google actually filed for a patent in January (still pending) outlining, apparently, the very practice they are claiming they had no knowledge of doing or desire to do, deep packet inspection, purportedly for the purpose of further zeroing in on locations. Ouch.

All right, so this is a minor setback for me in my attempts to make you all love Google but I’m not giving up. I’m posting this now preemptively to come clean on their behalf before David K jumps on this, cleverly spinning it up somehow to make Google look bad, but my next move is to plow through the patent application in order to extract probative clues that this practice would in fact benefit location acquisition with ping times and whatnot (it’s complicated) and that the way in which they gathered it up, in particular by switching channels on their wifi receivers five times a second, would offer nothing of value in terms of spying on what people are doing — just where they are doing it. If I can get that, I’ll report back with another plea for forgiveness. If not, I suppose I’ll try to change the subject.

Doug Simmons