Jeff Chester on Google-sponsored muni Wi-Fi: do we have any privacy left?

Jeff Chester has written an article in The Nation about how cities may be compromising their residents’ right to privacy by agreeing to have companies like Google deliver “free” Wi-Fi. Now, most cities issue RFPs don’t require vendors to deliver completely free Internet access; they require some level of free access, usually at lower speeds and allow the provider to Jeff Chester has written an article in The Nation about how cities may be compromising their residents’ right to privacy by agreeing to have companies like Google deliver “free” Wi-Fi. Now, most cities issue RFPs don’t require vendors to deliver completely free Internet access; they require some level of free access, usually at lower speeds and allow the provider to charge for higher bandwidth access. So what is the cost of “free”? Is it annoying ads? Intensive data mining? Will people not care at all? How is this different from what’s going right now when you do searches on Google?
Jeff says:

Unless municipal leaders object, citizens and visitors will be subjected to intensive data-mining of their web searches, e-mail messages and other online activities are tracked, profiled and targeted. The inevitable consequences are an erosion of online privacy, potential new threats of surveillance by law enforcement agencies and private parties, and the growing commercialization of culture . . . Instead of creating yet another e-commerce stomping ground, San Francisco and other cities should understand that real alternatives do exist to the corporate model of municipal Wi-Fi being peddled by Google and its cohorts.

Read the article here. Glenn Fleishman posted his thoughts on this issue as well.

Comments

  1. Your concern of compromising local residents’ rights of privacy for free or cheap municipal WiFi is more important than you may think. Two Florida based not for profits, ProjectSafety™ and St. Pete SmarTown™ have clear alternatives to the intrusive data-mining of Google and “google like” services, while still offering specific location and information services in emergencies. These two organizations early on viewed the importance of public safety primary access in shared public/private municipal networks while recognizing revenue sources through unobtrusive location based information and advertising. Florida networks also required the indestructible nature of decentralized low powered WiFi radios that have already survived catastrophic events such as hurricanes. (see earlier article MuniWireless article Guest Commentary: There Is A Large Pink Suede Elephant In The Middle Of The Room comments by Larry Karisny and response by Jonathan Baltuch).

    Our organizational studies confirm your concerns of the Google/Earthlink models and offer alternatives as to how the public and private sector can work together in deploying needed WiFi enabled technologies and services. Our concerns of the Google/Earthlink model are as follows: First, where have they addressed public safety primary interoperable access in these proposals? Should we wait until another catastrophic event to add this FCC licensed requirement to municipal and/or commercial RFP’s? Secondly, the private sector side not only has privacy issues, you need to look at how many dollars centralized “google like” services would suck out of your local advertising and tax revenues. Third, our studies clearly indicate that there are ways of making life saving location and information services available while keeping local and personal information personal.

    One more time, MuniWireless gets it. It’s about the community and how public/private partnerships must work together in addressing day to day and emergency community needs. I am not saying that municipals shouldn’t work together following technology standards and rules that will allow them national interoperability and security. I am saying we should “vote locally and think globally” and we will gain the important benefits that WiFi community networks will bring to our cities and nation.