It turns out that the people of Mountain View, CA, value their privacy at $1 million dollars. Seems like a fair trade to me: Soon, they'll always know the location of the closest Italian restaurant, and when they're around the corner from the grocery store, they'll get a headsup when their favorite cereal's on sale.
Google has installed 380 short-range wifi transmitters on lampposts in its hometown, with the goal of providing free wireless internet to everyone within 11.5 square miles. The installation cost a million bucks, but running the network will be much cheaper. Anyone with a free Google account can get online anywhere in town.
Google cheerfully admits that they are using their friends and neighbors as guinea pigs: "We want to understand what's different about how people search once they have an extra element of mobility," said Chris Sacca, Google's head of new business development. The network, says Sacca, is "very naive" and won't track online behavior on non-Google sites.
But seen through the lens of Declan McCullagh's excellent piece on the upsides of zero privacy, the real benefits are still to come. Google also announced yesterday that relevant discounts and coupons will appear on Google Maps searches for users nationwide. All this adds up to contextual advertising in no time. Ads will reflect goods and services available in the immediate vicinity of the user, the logical extension of Google's targeted ad strategy. Coming soon: The nearest Luigi's and cheap Froot Loops, sponsored by Google.
Tim Cavanaugh wrote about the perils and pleasures of municipal wifi back in Nov. 04.