Maybe you noticed the big news recently that Google will “allow” people to opt-out of having their Wi-Fi access point (AP) information and location added to a database that the company uses to track people on cell phones. Heralded as a concession to European privacy laws that would be extended to the United States “sometime this fall,” the announcement by Peter Fleischer, the Google global privacy counsel, actually underscores just how much the Internet privacy discussion is being framed by those who profit from harvesting our personal information.
Google is exploiting the fact that you can’t keep your Wi-Fi signal within your walls. Would it be OK for a company to use high tech listening devices to listen to conversations it could hear through your walls and show you advertising based on your conversations?
First, the idea that owners of wireless routers are offered an opt-out option illustrates two of the major issues. Individual consumers have no idea how Google uses these systems to track their every move, and there’s little reason for the company to educate them because it has not needed anyone’s permission to track them. Many would argue that Google should offer an “opt-in” option, and then convince people that the service benefits them somehow.
The fact is that businesses who make money off our information in an opt-out world argue that “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than to seek permission.” I’m sure that’s true, just as I’m sure they will continue to harvest, package and profit from our private lives for just as long as we let them.
After malware crashed his computer systems disrupting his business on several occasions, Jeff Bermant co-founded Virtual World Computing with Brian Fox to develop the Cocoon™ service, an all-in-one plugin that provides secure, virus-free and private online browsing.