Google Wi-Fi Deal Gains Powerful Critics

A member of San Francisco’s board of supervisors said he has some objections to the city’s tentative plans to let Google and Earthlink jointly build a citywide wireless network.

San Francisco Supervisor Jake McGoldrick is concerned about how much actual public input there will be with the deal, and how quickly it’s gaining the favor of key city figures.

It’s unclear just what impact McGoldrick’s opposition will have. Terms of the contract between the city and partners Google, of Mountain View, Calif., and Earthlink, of Atlanta, are being finalized now. It’s also far in advance of any possible board of supervisors vote.

Read more here about how Google/Earthlink won San Francisco’s heart.

McGoldrick’s is the most powerful of the voices raised so far against a plan by Google and Earthlink to build a wireless network based on Wi-Fi, a wireless technology contained in most laptops.

The two companies would offer free but ad-supported Internet access, plus a $20-per-month plan that is faster, and ad-free.

Neither company responded immediately to requests for comment.

The supervisor’s view was made clear about a week after the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) of Northern California, and two other San Francisco-based groups, asked the city to structure the final contract to appease their concerns about user privacy.

The economic and social benefits of free wireless Internet access are beyond reproach, and even the harshest critics laud Google and Earthlink for their intentions. But in practice, there is a number of possible privacy concerns, the three groups told the city.

For instance, the free service forces users to provide information that would let Google track their whereabouts, plus other details like an e-mail address.

Google/Earthlink defenders say the argument is overblown. And, the tracking is just to serve up better, more focused ads that will make advertisers happy, thus keeping the free service up and running.

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