Google faces multi-state investigation in the U.S. over Wi-Fi fiasco. Should it?

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You know, I’m somewhat conflicted when it comes to this Google story. Yesterday it emerged that France had discovered that Google’s Street View cars had surreptitiously collected private citizens’ passwords and other sensitive data. Today we’ve learned that several states here in the U.S., led by Connecticut, plan to investigate Google over this whole Wi-Fi fiasco. Normally you don’t want giant corporations driving around the countryside collecting private information on unsuspecting citizens, right? But does anyone really think that Google is “up to no good” here?

The story today is that the U.S. investigation will focus on a few things, namely who at Google gave the OK to collect the Wi-Fi data. (Google says it was an accident, and the work of a lone engineer.) It also wants to know when Google realized it was collecting Wi-Fi data, and why it didn’t do anything to stop the collection.

The investigation, led by Connecticut attorney general (and candidate for U.S. Sentate—he’s running against Linda McMahon, of WWE fame) Richard Blumenthal, basically wants Google to “come clean,” and wants it to explain why it thought it could get away with this “deeply disturbing invasion of personal privacy.”

Obviously you don’t want Google thinking it can get away with this type of thing, even if it was an accident. (Though I don’t know how packet-sniffing software can “accidentally” be set up to log every single packet of data from every single access point it comes across.) So in that sense I understand the concerns of the states and the various countries who have questioned Google.

But let’s assume this wasn’t an accident: how does it benefit Google to have a fleet of cars that goes around sniffing personal data? Google isn’t some 17-year-old war-driver looking for a cheap thrill—awesome, I have this guy’s Facebook password!

I’m just not sure I understand the Doomsday Scenario here.

That said, yeah, if Google went around collecting data, purposely or not, it should probably be given a stern talking to, however that manifests itself.

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