Posts Tagged ‘privacy’

WiFi & LBS Renew Privacy Pandemonium

June 1st, 2010

In light of the recent Google WiFi debacle, those of you new to the world of WiFi & LBS might have a few questions regarding this technology and the security of your personal information.

Let’s start with a quick recap.  On May 8th, the German data protection agency asked Google to audit the WiFi data they collect for use in products such as Google Maps.  We subsequently learned, by Google’s own admission, that they had been collecting everything from SSID names to MAC addresses and even some payload data (information for users sessions while connected to the network).

This has produced not only a stiff response from global governments, but also several class action lawsuits.  One such lawsuit in the US suggests that Google could end up paying $10,000 for each privacy violation, and they have even engaged the FTC to conduct a formal investigation into the consumer implications.

So what does this mean for consumers of WiFi, Facebook and Foursquare?

One of the most common concerns about Foursquare relates to user privacy. Surely, if you’re checking in everywhere you go, every day, you’re opening yourself up to some fairly significant privacy risks. More specifically, you’re handing over your location information to potential stalkers.

So the key to reducing the privacy-risks associated with using Foursquare is to set a privacy-strategy. In other words, properly manage who has access to your location information, and don’t check in everywhere you go.

Specifically, I recommend that you should only accept as friends on Foursquare those people that you are absolutely comfortable with knowing your location.

We already know that Facebook, too, has had its share of privacy concerns, leading to last week’s simplification of their privacy policy.  Canada’s 12 million Facebook users should be proud to have a watchdog like the privacy commission pushing Facebook to fall in line with our PIPEDA rules.

We can only anticipate that this will be tested even further as Facebook begins to embrace the location-aware features I’ve recently discussed.

And what about unsecured, public WiFi?  Should you connect? What are the risks?  The risks are great that both your personal information and session data may be compromised, but it soon may not matter.

Increasingly, governments are coming out hard against free or unsecured WiFi.  In Germany, you can be fined up to €100 if you don’t password-protect your network.

The UK has recently approved a Digital Economy Bill.  Under the proposed new regime, WiFi users will choose between two options: either you’re essentially an ISP, in which case you’ll need to become a copyright cop and police the connections of anyone using your network at great expense, or you’re not an ISP, in which case you’re responsible for any malicious use of the network, and subject to fines and lawsuits.

Does this mean the end of free public WiFi?  I think not – just the end to unsecured WiFi.  What it really means is that venues will find ways to work with ISPs, and that ISPs will find ways to build the cost of policing their networks into the mix.  Subsidization of such networks will come from the same brands and advertisers that ultimately want to reach the same consumer that wants free WiFi today.

Of course they can always opt out, but the cost for free, yet “secured” WiFi in the future will be to watch an ad, complete a survey, or disclose your location.

As consumers we are very simple-minded.  We want the notion of privacy, but most of us will never really take the time to change and fiddle with the settings – we’d rather just connect and maybe get something for free.