On July 26, 2012, Kansas City and Google announced an agreement to build out a fiber optic network, promising to bring broadband Internet and TV to homes across the area with speeds of up to 1 Gigabyte per second. While there may be benefits to increased competition for such services, there are questions that must be answered about the privacy of the information being transmitted across these new fiber optic lines, and whether or not Kansas City gave Google an unfair advantage over existing providers in order to bring the high speed network to the area.
Already, several communities in the area have pre-registered for the service with more expected to come. However, in reviewing the language in the development agreement between Google and Kansas City, Missouri, it appears that Google will be using city-owned office space and utilities during the build out at no charge to the company. Before personal data flows along fiber optic lines owned by Google, one wonders how much thought was given by city officials to Google’s abuses of privacy policies and individual data security, and whether or not sufficient protection for such information will be included with the new service. Google’s privacy foibles include the following:
- On January 24, 2012, Google announced changes to its privacy policies, consolidating more than 70 different policies spread throughout its product lines into one unified policy. Thirty-six state attorney generals raised concerns that “the policy appears to invade consumer privacy by automatically sharing personal information consumers input into one Google product with all Google products.” In addition, alarms over these changes were also sounded across the Atlantic, when France called for the European data authorities to investigate whether the changes to the policy violated European laws.
- In February 2012, it was revealed by a graduate student at Stanford University that Google had found a work-around to the “Do Not Track” settings in Apple’s Safari browser, allowing the company to track and load cookies onto users’ computers without their consent. Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff wrote in a July 22, 2012 Wall Street Journal article about the level of hacking that occurred in the Safari incident, calling for a “cyber strategy that creates legal rules to sanction both commercial and more-nefarious efforts to hijack control over our information technology systems and devices.” On July 31, 2012, Reuters reported that the FTC would fine Google $22.5 million, the largest fine ever imposed by the agency.
- According to an October 27, 2010 article in eWeek, in addition to taking photos for its Street View application, Google collected information from unsecured Wi-Fi connections in more than 30 countries including the U.S., Germany, France and the United Kingdom. In October 2010, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) called off its investigation into Street View after Google made changes to its business processes and stated its intention to delete the collected payload data.
Google’s history of privacy violations are troubling as the company enters into a new business venture, provisioning high speed broadband and television services to communities across the country. Equally troubling are the concessions local governments may make at taxpayer expense in order to vie for Google Fiber. Agreements to build out new broadband services with Google must ensure that there is a level playing field for all competitors in the marketplace, and that the company will “do no evil” by signing iron-clad agreements that customer data will remain not only secure, but private from unwanted data mining, information scraping and other privacy intrusions from Google itself and all other entities. At the very least, those privacy protections must be equal to or better than those agreed to by existing private or public providers of broadband services.