Google has responded to some of the privacy concerns with their proposed municipal wi-fi network for the city of San Francisco. In a letter [PDF] sent to the City, they defend requiring a Google Account to access the network, as well as their proposed data collection and retention practices.
Currently, I’m swamped with other obligations, but a quick read of the letter revealed this statement:
Choice. Google WiFi users will enjoy a range of choices with respect to their Google WiFI account information. They may create and use different Google Accounts to access the network or separate Google services, such as Gmail.
This statement is ambiguous about whether a user can log into the WiFi system with one Google Account, but then use a different Google Account in order to check their Gmail, perform web searches, and so on. Are they suggesting users manage multiple Google Accounts depending on how they access the web? That is quite unwieldy. If I want to check my Gmail account via the WiFI network, I have to use the Google Account associated with that Gmail account.
More importantly, Google still hasn’t explained why a Google Account itself is even necessary to use the system. By setting up a Google Account, users are automatically enrolled in a multitude of other data-collection services within Google’s suite of products, including the collection of search histories. Using a Google Account reduces Google’s reliance on tracking a users IP address for the collection of usage statistics – all data can be easily correlated to the Google Account.
Rather than creating a unique account system for the WiFi system, Google has ensured that all WiFi users create Google Accounts and become part of their widening infrastructure for the collection of online browsing habits.