Pickle Monger points us to the news that the group Privacy International is now claiming that Google had "criminal intent" in its accidental data collection from unencrypted WiFi access points. This is, frankly, ridiculous. It takes away pretty much all credibility from Privacy International. There are plenty of reasons why what Google did was bad, but "criminal intent"? That's silly and there's no evidence to support that at all. So far, the evidence shows that Google has pretty poor processes for managing projects like this, but to jump from that to criminal intent, without any facts is just fear mongering.
Google is going to end up getting in trouble around the globe for this. There's little doubt of that. Google haters are using this opportunity to attack the company. But the more you actually look at what the company did, the less troubling it is. If someone really did have "criminal intent" to snarf data on open WiFi networks (and there certainly are some folks who do have such criminal intent) they would have done a hell of a lot more than they actually did. Driving around, collecting little snippets of information is about the worst way to get anything useful off of a WiFi network like that. Again, Google never should have done this, but attacking Google for this, without recognizing that there are actual criminals who do much worse on open WiFi networks all the time is pretty bizarre. It's just an excuse to attack Google.
We've already covered one class action lawsuit filed against Google for its WiFi data slurping activities, and it appears that lots and lots of lawyers are trying to jump into the game. Eric Goldman has a list of at least seven such class action lawsuits that have been filed already. While we agree that Google's actions were bad, and do deserve some scrutiny, I find it difficult to believe these lawsuits can get anywhere. In the first one that we covered, we noted that one of the complaints was from a woman who sent confidential company data via her own, unsecured WiFi access point, and we couldn't figure out how that was Google's fault.
The real issue, though, is that it will be nearly impossible (if not impossible) for anyone in any of these lawsuits to first show that any of their specific data was recorded by Google, and secondly, that any harm came to them because of it. And, as we've noted multiple times, the courts seem to want to (a) see actual privacy being breached, rather than theoretical privacy being breached and (b) see actually harm come to the plaintiffs from those breaches. Without either of those things, it's hard to see these lawsuits getting very far.
As Goldman notes, not at all sarcastically:
It's remarkable that these lawyers were able to conclude to their satisfaction that their named plaintiffs in fact had their payload data captured in the process--presumably by confirming that payload data was actually being transmitted at the precise time the cars drove by. I'm not sure how I would research this issue sufficient to satisfy my Rule 11 obligation, but these attorneys surely didn't just assume Google captured their clients' payload data...did they?
Every time we mention CSIRO, the Australian government-owned research group that claims to hold a patent on the basic concept behind WiFi, we get angry comments from people at CSIRO who claim that we've got it all wrong, and that even if they agree with us in general on patents, CSIRO's WiFi patent and the hundreds of millions of dollars it sucks from companies doing actual innovation, is perfectly reasonable. Uh huh. Of course, we still have problems with the idea that any government organization ought to be patenting anything. However, following the decision by a bunch of tech companies sued by CSIRO to pay $250 million to settle the giant patent lawsuit, CSIRO is coming back for more.
JohnForDummies was the first of a few of you to alert us to CSIRO's latest set of lawsuits against American tech companies, this time focusing on ISPs. Verizon Wireless, AT&T and T-Mobile have all been sued, even though none actually make WiFi equipment. However, since they all have WiFi-enabled devices (some of which were almost certainly made by the tech companies who already paid up) CSIRO claims they need to pay up again. Apparently patent exhaustion is not a concept CSIRO considers valid.
Oddly, the article in The Age about this lawsuit seems to side almost entirely with CSIRO, quoting people who insist that companies have "no choice but to pay up" and that CSIRO has the right to demand licenses from the "entire industry." It also quotes someone who falsely claims that the only reason companies would agree to settle is if they knew they were going to lose. That's not even close to true. Lots of companies settle patent disputes because it's often cheaper to do so. And, even if they think they can win, oftentimes their shareholders don't like the uncertainty and push for a faster settlement.
The Age article also provides some more background on the patents in question, highlighting that they're based on mathematical equations created in a 1977 paper. As JohnForDummies points out, mathematical equations are not supposed to be patentable...
Late last week, of course, Google 'fessed up to the fact that it was accidentally collecting some data being transmitted over open WiFi connections with its Google Street View mapping cars. As we noted at the time, it was bad that Google was doing this and worse that they didn't realize it. However, it wasn't nearly as bad as some have made it out to be. First of all, anyone on those networks could have done the exact same thing. As a user on a network, it's your responsibility to secure your connection. Second, at best, Google was getting a tiny fraction of any data, in that it only got a quick snippet as it drove by. Third, it seemed clear that Google had not done anything with that collected data. So, yes, it was not a good thing that this was done, but the actual harm was somewhat minimal -- and, again, anyone else could have easily done the same thing (or much worse).
That said, given the irrational fear over Google collecting any sort of information in some governments, this particular bit of news has quickly snowballed into investigations across Europe and calls for the FTC to get involved in the US. While one hopes that any investigation will quickly realize that this is not as big a deal as it's being made out to be, my guess is that, at least in Europe, regulators will come down hard on Google.
However, going to an even more ridiculous level, the class action lawyers are jumping into the game. Eric Goldman points us to a hastily filed class action lawsuit filed against Google over this issue. Basically, it looks like the lawyers found two people who kept open WiFi networks, and they're now suing Google, claiming that its Street View operations "harmed" them. For the life of me, I can't see how that argument makes any sense at all. Here's the filing:
Basically, you have two people who could have easily secured their WiFi connection or, barring that, secured their own traffic over their open WiFi network, and chose to do neither. Then, you have a vague claim, with no evidence, that Google somehow got their traffic when its Street View cars photographed the streets where they live. As for what kind of harm it did? Well, there's nothing there either.
My favorite part, frankly, is that one of the two people involved in bringing the lawsuit, Vicki Van Valin, effectively admits that she failed to secure confidential information as per her own employment requirements. Yes, this is in her own lawsuit filing:
Van Valin works in the high technology field, and works from her home over her internet-connect computer a substantial amount of time. In connection with her work and home life, Van Valin transmits and receives a substantial amount of data from and to her computer over her wireless connection ("wireless data"). A significant amount of the wireless data is also subject to her employer's non-disclosure and security regulations.
Ok. So your company has non-disclosure and security regulations... and you access that data unencrypted over an unencrypted WiFi connection... and then want to blame someone else for it? How's that work now? Basically, this woman appears to be admitting that she has violated her own company's rules in a lawsuit she's filed on her behalf. Wow.
While there's nothing illegal about setting up an open WiFi network -- and, in fact, it's often a very sensible thing to do -- if you're using an open WiFi network, it is your responsibility to recognize that it is open and any unencrypted data you send over that network can be seen by anyone else on the same access point.
This is clearly nothing more than a money grab by some people, and hopefully the courts toss it out quickly, though I imagine there will be more lawsuits like this one.
Rik was the first of a few of you to send in the news that the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is claiming that London will be fully covered by WiFi in time for the 2012 Olympic games. Of course, considering that the UK Parliament just passed the Digital Economy Act, which calls for carefully limiting access to the internet for people accused (not convicted) of infringement online, it makes you wonder how that's going to work. Even if Ofcom has said that the DEA rules won't initially apply to wireless providers, it does seem a bit odd to have the government offering a service like this. Once again, we're seeing how the government has these two competing issues that don't play well together: getting more broadband availability, while looking to help out the entertainment industry by kicking people off the internet at the same time. Who will be the first Olympic athlete kicked offline for downloading some music during the games?
Germany's top criminal court ruled Wednesday that Internet users need to secure their private wireless connections by password to prevent unauthorized people from using their Web access to illegally download data.
Internet users can be fined up to euro100 ($126) if a third party takes advantage of their unprotected WLAN connection to illegally download music or other files, the Karlsruhe-based court said in its verdict.
"Private users are obligated to check whether their wireless connection is adequately secured to the danger of unauthorized third parties abusing it to commit copyright violation," the court said.
This is backwards in so many ways. First, open WiFi is quite useful, and requiring a password can be a huge pain, limiting all sorts of individuals and organizations who have perfectly good reasons for offering free and open WiFi. Second, fining the WiFi hotspot owner for actions of users of the service is highly troubling from a third party liability standpoint. The operator of the WiFi hotspot should not be responsible for the actions of users, and it's troubling that the German court would find otherwise. This is an unfortunate ruling no matter how you look at it.
Back in March, Derek Kerton noted in a post here on Techdirt some peculiarities popping up around Skype's plans for mobile devices. In particular, he pointed out how Skype announced a version of its client for several smartphones on the Verizon network, but the app looked crippled because it couldn't function over WiFi and routed Skype calls over a standard voice connection. When the app became available, I downloaded it for my Android device on Verizon, and I too, noticed that it forced me to shut off the WiFi connection on my device. This didn't make much sense to me: I'm already paying for a flat-rate data plan, so it's not as if this would force me to spend more money. In addition, given the way that mobile operators have been saying their networks are overwhelmed by data traffic, why would they force me to use the mobile network when I could offload the Skype traffic to a WiFi connection? Then, when I placed a Skype call through the app and saw that it was actually routed through a voice call to an access number, I was confused even more.
As Derek noted, the Skype app for Verizon followed a series of several other moves that call into question Skype's actual commitment to open networks, and that combined with US operators' historical positions against openness, it was natural to assume that the app shut off WiFi on Android devices because of some nefarious purpose. But Verizon has explained itself, saying the app behaves this way because of a combination of technology and legality. In short, Verizon lawyers felt like voice calls made through Skype needed to be treated like standard voice calls from a legal perspective. This means conforming to 911 regulations, as well as the CALEA act, which opens networks to wiretapping by law enforcement. Verizon contends that CALEA dictates that call-signaling info travel over its data network, rather than unknown (and possibly unsecure) WiFi. This is where the technology comes in: apparently it's impossible for the Skype app on Android to choose to use the Verizon data network if the device is connected to WiFi. So therefore it has to completely shut off the WiFi connection to be sure its data travels over the mobile network. On BlackBerry devices, this isn't the case, so the app doesn't force users to shut off their WiFi.
Given mobile operators' past penchant for closing off their networks, it's forgivable that somebody would assume one had nefarious purposes for blocking WiFi access to Skype. That may not be the case in this narrow instance -- but many of Derek's other questions about Skype's much-touted commitment to openness remain unanswered.
For a while the complaints used to be about Apple's totally arbitrary process for choosing which apps get into the iPhone app store, but lately the complaints have been about Apple (again totally arbitrarily) removing apps that were already there. There were all those complaints about the sudden removal of "adult" apps (unless you were someone famous like Playboy, in which case Apple was fine with it), and now there are complaints that Apple suddenly and inexplicably has removed WiFi finders from the app store. While developers feel they need to keep developing for the iPhone given its footprint in the market, moves like this are going to keep pissing off developers quite a bit too. You can do that when you dominate the market, but it can come back to bite you later on.
Back in January, while in France, I experienced firsthand one of the "unintended consequences" of France rushing forwarding with a "three strikes" law that kicks people off the internet based on accusations (not convictions). Because of that, the idea of open WiFi is now pretty much gone (which, amusingly, was pissing off the very same music execs who were such big fans of the law). It seems that something similar might be happening in the UK, as the folks behind the much maligned Digital Economy Bill have admitted that there will be no exceptions for anyone operating an open WiFi network, even a library or a university. Thus, if a library had an open WiFi network, and it received a few accusations of file sharing, Peter Mandelson could decide to kick them off the internet for as long as he would like.
While it doesn't technically "outlaw" open WiFi, it does put such a big liability on it that it leads to the same result. It effectively makes it so that no one, not even community organizations, will want to offer open WiFi. At a time when the UK government claims it's trying to encourage greater connectivity, it seems pretty silly to put in place a law that could lead to exactly the opposite.
from the the-wifi-on-the-bus-goes...-data-data-data? dept
WiFi has been showing up on airplanes and trains lately, and in Silicon Valley, it's used on the special shuttle buses that companies like Google and Yahoo use to get employees to work. But what about for high schoolers? The NY Times recently had an article about a high school out in the far reaches of Arizona that has put WiFi on a school bus, and found that the impact is really quite amazing:
Wi-Fi access has transformed what was often a boisterous bus ride into a rolling study hall, and behavioral problems have virtually disappeared.
"It's made a big difference," said J. J. Johnson, the bus's driver. "Boys aren't hitting each other, girls are busy, and there's not so much jumping around."
What's amusing here is the juxtaposition of this article with recent articles that fret about kids spending too much time online, with worries that they're becoming addicted or wasting time that could be better spent. But, here the article is suggesting exactly the opposite: that not only is more internet access leading to a less rowdy bus ride, but it's helping the students become better students.
Rikuo: long story short, guy is wrongly named as a taxi far evader in a video, and the judge orders it deleted WORLDWIDE from all sites to be more accurate, he was named in the comments, not the video itself dennis deems: Jay, thanks for that reminder Christopher Best: Andrew Stack was not a member of the Tea Party movement. He was a disturbed individual, and a disgruntled software developer. There's explicit tax law that treats software developers very unfairly if they try to work as independent contractors... yaga: that's very true CB Alana: AJ Seriously just compared arguments against copyright infringment to rape. ... Yeah, nobody should take him seriously at this point. err, against copyright* silverscarcat: seriously? Jay: Glenn Beck asking for a 9/12 movement isn't the least bit suspicious? Along with all of the other issues with the IRS right now? Ninja: I am honestly amused that the community is marking the comments of that "horse" guy as funny silverscarcat: Who takes Glenn Beck seriously? Jeff: did the 'new' comment color bars go away? dennis deems: ya I hadn't noticed until you said that. I don't recall seeing them the last couple days. Mike Masnick: new color bars ran into some big technical problems. :) we took them down while we fix them. fix is currently going through testing and should be back (and better than before) soon. dennis deems: yay! the color bars rule! Jeff: whew! Thought I was going... wait for it... "Color Blind" thanks! I'll be here all day... :-) Jay: @ssc I'm talking more in 2011 at the peak of TP hysteria