This eWeek article
is Chris Nolan's take on the impact of Google offering free WiFi service. She goes after the telcos and cable companies for the most part, focusing on the disruption to their existing business model and government regulation. Her net tone is that anything that takes down the cable/telcos is a good thing.
Unfortunately, she seems to disregard the other side of the equation - the power shift that tilts mightily in Google's favor. Now, before you come off and say "Well, Jeff works for Microsoft so I am sure he hates the idea of Google getting more powerful" just let me say you can insert any big company into offering free WiFi and I will have roughly the same thoughts. I have these same thoughts even more so if said "replacement for Google company" also derives a huge portion of its revenue from advertising.
Think about it for a minute. What will Google get in return for letting you surf their WiFi for free? Advertising eyeballs? Sure, and I agree that is not a big deal since I am a firm believer in "buyer beware" when it comes to advertising. If you dumb enough to read the ad and buy something you don't need - tough. But, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Do you think Google will track all that surfing you do on their network? Guaranteed. Will they collect demographic info from you in order to gain access to the network? Probably or at least do it indirectly. You can continue to add all the possible scenarios that will allow Google to watch your every step and know way more about you than is comfortable.
There was a massive outcry over privacy concerns when Microsoft launched Passport or even started talking about the now defunct Hailstorm (which the smart among you realize has essentially been reborn at Google with all the same evils associated). People would be concerned over government snooping if it was a free government sponsored network, but Google seems to be viewed as an altruistic benefactor despite their need to appease stockholders. Google will have the means and the ability to know a lot about you if you use their free network.
Yes, other network providers have the same capability to some extent, but their core interest is in your connectivity and billing you each month for that. Itâ€™s not in driving their revenue by catching your advertising eye, selling your eyeballs to advertisers, and making those same advertisers even happier by selling them info about you. I'm really not a knee jerk privacy guy, but I also don't think companies should get a free pass on these issues either. There are still a TON of details that are unknown on what Google's plans are. But the fact that they are already being accepted with open arms is a bit scary. Just imagine the outcry if Microsoft decided to offer free dial up access from the corner gas station. ;-)