Lots of talk this weekend over sudden fears that the free Google-powered non-muni, muni-WiFi in San Francisco will be a privacy problem. The fear relates back to the recent concern over subpoenas of Google data by the government. The Google WiFi plan would require users to login, and would use some location-based tools to serve up locally specific ads. So, the story goes, Google knows where you are, meaning that the government can subpoena Google and then the government knows where you are. It all sounds very worrisome until you take a step back and realize how silly this actually seems. First of all, if the government is trying to track your location, figuring out where your mobile phone is is much more likely to yield useful information. In other words, if people are really worried about this, it seems like there are much more worrisome location tracking services that they should be paying attention too. At the same time, no one is ever required to use Google's free WiFi. Hell, part of the deal is that this network will also have a fee-based offering from Earthlink that (we assume) won't be so focused on location-specific info. However, any time you use any wireless network, there's going to be some record of where you are, since you're within range of whatever wireless system is being used. There's nothing particularly special or more worrisome about Google's efforts here -- and it's not clear why anyone is making a big deal out of it.
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