Google's Wi-Fi spygate troubles have only just begun

Google probably believed it was putting its Wi-Fi data slurping controversy behind it. It was wrong

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Google still claims its intent in wardriving was merely to improve its ability to locate mobile devices by using the coordinates of open Wi-Fi networks, which is much more accurate than triangulating between cell towers; it can also work indoors and other places where GPS doesn't. That's how services like Foursquare know where you are or how your smartphone can tell you the location of the nearest ATM. That alone is not a bad thing.

And Google isn't the first company to do this. Skyhook has been building a database of open Wi-Fi networks for years. But all Skyhook collects are the bits of data necessary for this task: the network SSID, signal strength, and the physical location of the network.

In fact, Skyhook CEO Ted Morgan says he looked at collecting more data to make Skyhook's database of open nets more accurate. But he rejected the idea, saying it wouldn't provide any benefits. He told the Times: "Google is routinely grabbing a lot more data."

Ya think?

Now a number of the regulars here in Cringeville believe people who leave their Wi-Fi networks secured unsecured deserve whatever they get. I don't agree. I thought the Wi-Fi spying was pretty egregious even when I still believed it really was a "mistake," the actions of one misguided geek. After having read the full FCC report, I'm convinced important people at Google knew that Wi-Fi spying was going on and allowed it to happen and Google lied about it afterward.

Remember the old Watergate line: It's not the crime, it's the cover-up that gets you in the end. And that, more than the data slurping, is what may get Google.

If Google gets got, what punishment should it get? Post your ideas below or email me:

This article, "Google's Wi-Fi spygate troubles have only just begun," was originally published at Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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