Poor old Google. No matter what they do, there's always some preexisting privacy issue they suddenly get blamed for. This time it's over the plans to support free wi-fi access in San Francisco with ads and how that means people will be tracked across the city.
Wi-Fi plan stirs Big Brother concerns from the San Francisco Chronicle looks at the issue. Google says location data would be deleted after 180 days. Privacy advocates worry that government officials could demand this "treasure trove" of data to track people.
To use the Google service, you'd have to log into your Google account. Voila! That would mean Google knows who and where you are, since the wi-fi access point you tap into will have a known geographic location. Of course, you use the paid version from Earthlink, you give them a credit card, log into your Earthlink account. Voila! Exactly the same issue.
In fact, any fee-based wi-fi service you've used knows who you are. These services have existed for years and just like Google's service, know what locations you're logging in from.
I don't know how long they keep this data, but that's also because I've not seen any articles on the topic -- just like I seldom see articles about ISP having records of what you search for. Instead, it's Google and search engines in general that get the focus. Protecting Your Search Privacy: A Flowchart To Tracks You Leave Behind has more on this.
Don't get me wrong. People should definitely be concerned about such issues, and it would be great to have better laws to protect us. But they need to consider the ISP angle, as well.
Meanwhile, while Google said back in October that it had no plans to do free WiFi outside San Francisco, Om Malik points out that Earthlink's CEO says the two companies are looking to do a second city now.
EarthLink, Google discuss bid for second muni network from Dow Jones has more on that, along with Google reiterating that it doesn't plan to expand beyond the San Francisco Bay Area.