Australia official: Google deliberately took Wi-Fi data

Country's communications minister reportedly launches assault on Google, accusing it of perpetrating one of the largest breaches in privacy with its Street View service.

It is hard to understand why some enterprising TV company hasn't already created a game show called "Breach of Privacy." This would entail people telling their stories of the most egregious ways in which their privacy was removed from them, with viewers voting for the winners.

Stephen Conroy, Australia's Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, would surely be a worthy contestant. In a senate committee that was set up to discuss Internet filtering, Conroy reportedly became so fired up that he was unable to keep his views about Google to himself.

According to the Telegraph, he described Google CEO Eric Schmidt's approach as "a bit creepy, frankly."

Warming to his theme, he reportedly declared: "When it comes to their attitude to their own censorship, their response is simply, 'trust us.' That is what they actually state on their Web site: 'Trust us.'"

Guilty or innocent? CC Mark Wallace/Flickr

There is always something creepy when a corporation, like any salesperson, asks you to trust it. Trust should be something earned, rather than demanded. So it was not, perhaps, surprising that Conroy went on to discuss Google's highly questionable excuses for its alleged inadvertence in collecting Wi-Fi data as its friendly cars passed by unsuspecting neighborhoods.

Conroy reportedly said the things that so many have been thinking, even to the point of it disturbing their sleep. He said that Google collected the Wi-Fi information with complete aforethought.

"I am saying that they wrote a piece of code designed to do it," he said, according to the Australian newspaper.

In fact, now that he had Street View on his mental radar, he added, according to the Australian: "It is possible that this has been the largest privacy breach in history across Western democracies."

And, just in case anyone hadn't quite grasped the gist of his argument, the Australian said he reminded the committee of Google's power and attitude: "They consider themselves to be above government."

Google reportedly responded by offering a statement of surprise that the minister should express such views in a hearing that was intended to discuss Australia's Internet filter which, the company fears, would slow down Internet service for all Australians.

Conroy's words might sound extreme to those, like Google and Facebook, who believe their grasp of technology gives them the right to be the only arbiters of the future. But perhaps it's rather healthy that more and more people are questioning just how these companies choose to do business.

 

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