Google and Microsoft: A race for the bottom

Who should be more ashamed: Google for Wi-Fi spying or Microsoft for general ineptitude? Cringely readers weigh in

It's been a lively few weeks here in Cringeville, as my inbox will attest.

First, before anyone else sends me another email on this: Yes, I messed up in my second post on Google's Wi-Fi lies ("Google's Wi-Fi spygate troubles have only just begun"). In that screed I said "a number of the regulars here in Cringeville believe people who leave their Wi-Fi networks secured deserve whatever they get."

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What I meant to say there, obviously, was unsecured, though people who do secure their nets also deserve something -- maybe a merit badge. Thanks to the half-dozen readers who immediately noticed the gaffe; it's nice to know at least some of you are actually reading this blog instead of leaping straight into the fray in the comments fields.

Of course, I also got a fair number of reactions to my original rant about Google ("Lies, spies, and Wi-Fi: Google fesses up"). There was a vigorous debate over whether Google should be blamed because it scooped up information that people had carelessly broadcast out into the street. Cringester J.A. offered up a typical reaction.

Well, you're right of course ... Google can't be trusted.

On the other hand, doncha think anybody using an unprotected Wi-Fi network deserves whatever happens to them? It's sorta like leaving home with with your front door and your fly open. Aren't there awards for that kind of stupidity?

My response to J. A.: I think leaving your door open means you shouldn't be surprised to walk in and find a stranger sitting on your couch, but I don't believe it gives the stranger a right to be there. Wi-Fi routers have been poorly marketed for a decade now, and a lot of nontech people have them. The industry has done a poor job of teaching those folks basic security or giving them dead simple tools to make it easy. I don't think they should be forced to sacrifice their privacy as a result.

Reader S.S., on the other hand, had this to say about the matter:

OK, now I like Google but, I like my privacy even more. They should be forced to financially compensate each individual they stole private info from. The amount of compensation should vary with the type and amount of data stolen. This info should be also disclosed to the victims as well. Steps to rectify the risk of identity theft should be taken at Google's expense. The FCC is there to protect us, aren't they?

What we need, I think, are two things: a) laws that offer some kind of privacy protection for personal data traveling over the Internet, even on unsecured lines, possibly with some kind of financial penalty for transgressors; and 2) idiot-proof out-of-the-box-secure routers.

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