Google Wi-Fi Incident Under More Scrutiny

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Canada’s privacy commissioner has launched
an investigation into Google’s disclosure that it mistakenly collected
data from unsecured home Wi-Fi networks. 

“We are very concerned about the privacy implications stemming from
Google’s confirmation that it had been capturing Wi-Fi data in
neighborhoods across Canada and around the world over the past several
years,” Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said in a
statement Tuesday.

Google acknowledged last month that vehicles that photograph pictures
for the company’s Street View service and also tracked the location of
Wi-Fi networks mistakenly collected data from unsecured Wi-Fi
networks. Several members of Congress have called
on the FTC
to investigate the matter, while EU officials also have
voiced concern over the incident.

Stoddard said that her office will be examining whether the incident
violated Canada’s private sector privacy law, known as the Personal
Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. She has urged
Google to retain the Wi-Fi data it collected in Canada.

“We have a number of questions about how this collection could have
happened and about the impact on people’s privacy,” she said.

Google has said it collected the information by mistake and has
pledged to cooperate with all the relevant authorities.

Meanwhile, a public interest group that has been critical of many of
Google’s activities, including its privacy policies, released a report
Wednesday that claims Google has used its search engine dominance to
drive traffic to its other services.

Consumer Watchdog said it obtained three years of Internet traffic
from the Web metrics firm Experian Hitwise to analyze Web traffic to
Google’s other services. It claims that it shows Google’s search
results favor its services over competitors, a claim Google has
repeatedly denied.

Consumer Watchdog said the data showed for example among the “biggest
losers from Google’s adoption of Universal Search is MapQuest.” The
study notes that MapQuest has been hampered by the fact that Google’s
search engine puts Google Maps at the top of the results when a user
puts in an address into Google’s search engine. The study argues that as
a result of this, MapQuest’s market share has dropped from 57 percent
in July 2007 to 32 percent now.

The study points to other examples such as a near doubling in market
share for Google’s YouTube video site, but fails to provide evidence
showing how Google’s search results were responsible for the rise in
these sites’ market share and excludes other factors such as the
possibility that users might prefer these Google sites over others.

“Our goal is to give users the info they’re seeking as quickly as
possible. Sometimes that means showing a map, a streaming audio link, or
an answer to a question at the top of the page if we think that’s what
users want,” a Google spokesman said. “We strive to deliver what we
think is the most relevant result from a variety of content types, and
if we’re not giving users the information they want then other sources
of information are always one click away.”

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
Providing an effective voice for American consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Non-partisan.

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