Since I have family in Austria and in Belgium, and residing in the US I think I have a unique perspective on this latest news story of Europe’s reaction to Google’s WiFi gathering activity that has stirred concern amongst privacy advocates especially in Europe. The Austrian Data Protection Commission announced today that it was allowing Google to restart it’s street view picture taking program after having been banned for a year while they investigated the alleged wifi scanning issue with their vehicles. Now Belgium’s privacy groups are jumping into the mix and also investigating Google’s street view imaging recording activity. The Netherlands, France, have also investigated and fined Google for their over aggressive WiFi collecting activity as well. Is Google sticking to it’s do no evil motto many privacy groups in Europe probably would say no.
From my travels to Belgium and Austria in the last few years I’ve noticed that in general I’d say that much of Europe is about 5-10 years behind in the adoption of technology or at least certain aspects for example. When I was in Belgium last about 3 years ago, I was amazed to find that not a lot of people had broadband let alone wifi connections in comparison to the US. Also when trying to find a free hotspot in town only one cafe had free wifi setup, I was really surprised. And my visits to Austria where also about as impressive, very few hotspots and the DSL connections where unstable and unreliable two years ago, and still seem to be that way.
In Europe I see a general lack of adoption of technology, and fear of it, and their privacy groups are very vigilant which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but Google getting a carried away with it’s “make everything searchable” just adds fuel to the fire. Now what Google did most likely was a mistake, but it was actual private data they collected at the packet level i.e the actual data flying through air around your wifi connection, they went beyond just collecting the SSID wifi hotspot name and actually analyzed the unencrypted traffic which they claim was a mistake and probably was. I believe mistakes will be made with new technology and we can’t kill the goose that laid the golden egg as the Google street view data is very useful information when finding directions etc, I just hope Google is more careful in the future as I would like to have my street level views when I’m in Europe.
Do you find street level views helpful, if so in what ways? Do you travel to Europe and wish you had it there too?