More Upsides to Zero Privacy


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.

NEXT: Mexicans And Other Terrorists

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  1. I wonder if it works as one big network or if you have to log in and out when in range of each transmitter?

  2. Compromising people’s privacy?

    Dropping the dime on Chinese dissidents?

    Good thing Google adheres to that whole “Do no evil” thing.

  3. No, no MG, it’s ok. See, in exchange for your privacy, you’ll get coupons! And advertising! I mean, really, who doesn’t need more advertising in their lives?

  4. I mean, really, who doesn’t need more advertising in their lives?

    It’s not about more advertising, it’s about more relevant (to you) advertising. while traditional advertising approaches are generally intrusive and irrelevant (which is true in most cases), I actually see this case as a positive…now I’ll be informed (advertising) about things that are actually relevant to my interests and actions…and unlike google’s adwords which do this already based on my search terms, this may even come with a change to save a buck.

    I’m not always prescient about everything that I might be interested in, so i can choose to use a tool that might recognize my interests based on my actions…because privacy is a commodity, I’ll happily exchange when it is in my interest to do so for something I deem of value to me. Now when the government makes you use Google, that’s another story.

  5. Phew,

    I live in the area, and I am just happy they aren’t some sort of new fangled police detection device. I saw them pop up about three months ago and have been wondering ever since. I can’t wait personally.

  6. My understanding is that Google wants to experiment with advertising according to which wifi antenna(e) the user is near. The user’s login id may be mixed into the equation, too. But, even though I live in Mountain View, it isn’t going to affect my privacy one bit, because I don’t plan on using their network.

  7. But, even though I live in Mountain View, it isn’t going to affect my privacy one bit, because I don’t plan on using their network.

    No worries. There’s very little a clever user would have to give up in terms of privacy.

    I don’t know much about this system, but what Google might to is make public all of its security schemes. The security is more a problem than whether or not NIC 00-0C-6E-6E-2D-82 searched on “How to kill your wife”.

  8. In fact, if I were going to do anything nefarious, it would be precisely on this type of network that I would do my bidness. When I research options for possible terror targets, I’m doing it from free, public wireless networks, not my home computer.

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