We're still a bit confused about why so many people freaked out
a few years back when Google's Street View cars gobbled up some open WiFi data -- since anyone can do that on an open WiFi network. Various investigations did
show that Google was a bit disorganized
and had some poor controls in place, which perhaps meant that it should have caught the data collection sooner. So, if you think Google should be punished for that kind of thing, then the recent settlement
with a group of state attorneys general perhaps made you happy.
That said, EFF is pointing out why the settlement is stupid -- not for Google, but for open WiFi and security
. First, these technologically clueless attorneys general are requiring Google to create videos and ads promoting WiFi encryption... with a focus on old and bad
standards like WEP, which is like saying you should be locking your front door with a cheap chain lock. It's a "lock," but one that could be broken by pretty much anyone in seconds.
Even worse, though, is that the settlement requires Google to push the message that the only way to protect yourself is to lock up your WiFi. But that's ridiculous. Open WiFi, by itself, is not a bad thing
. Yes, unencrypted data could be exposed, but the better answer is to encrypt your data
, such as by using a VPN. As EFF notes, end-to-end encryption is always going to make more sense than just encrypting your access point and hoping that keeps people out. And, yet, much of the settlement focuses on having Google push people to lock up their WiFi.
The solution to public surveillance problems should not involve discouraging people from providing public resources like open wireless, since this cuts against the general interest and takes away a common good. As we've explained elsewhere, wireless encryption provides few benefits compared to the much stronger end-to-end encryption, a technology that can thrive alongside environments with open wireless access. The settlement could have gone so much farther by educating people how to run open wireless networks safely and securely—for example, through open guest networks.
It is apparent that too little thought and analysis went into this settlement document, and, as a result, the requirements do the public a huge disservice by hurting the Open Wireless Movement.
Of course, this is the kind of thing you get when you let grandstanding politicians tell companies how they need to act concerning technology they don't understand.