Google’s WiFi scandal is a good test of Internet activism. Are activists intellectuals with a special insight into the consequences of technology? Or are they more like dogs that chase every passing car? The implication is that Google was able to capture your personal information as they drove by in their StreetView cars. In fact, the data they collected is too fragmentary to be useful. Most WiFi is encrypted (and hence, not eavesdroppable), and even if unencrypted, chances are that StreetView collected nothing in the few seconds it took to drive by. In other words, Google had as much chance of capturing your password/email as they did of taking a picture at the precise moment you stepped out of your shower with the curtains open. Sure, such events happened a few thousand times, but this was tiny compared to the billions of homes StreetView drove past worldwide. This is the test for Internet privacy activists. They aren’t intellectuals. They don’t understand the technology of WiFi sniffing. They don’t understand that what Google collected is worthless. They assume the worst, about what Google was able to collect, and about Google’s intentions. It’s funny to watch. Google hasn’t been forthcoming with details about the WiFi overcollection because they recognize that there is a witch-hunt going on. Since any rational person should be able to recognize the overcollected data is worthless, any attack must therefore come from the lunatic fringe. But this convinces the fringe that there is an important cover-up. It’s like how the US keeps Area 51 secret (it’s a military base where they test stealth technology), which convinces the fringe that there is a UFO cover-up. You can verify this yourself. Download “BackTrack 5 r2”, the well-known Linux destro with a bunch of hacking tools. Boot your laptop with BackTrack and run “Kismet”, then drive around neighborhoods for a few hours. Then, back home, run the collected data through hacking tools like ‘dsniff’ or ‘ferret’ to see if you got anything useful. I consider myself an "activist", but I hate being lumped in with the fringe. The road to tyranny is paved with good intentions of ignorant activists. We should not have laws preventing StreetView from taking pictures of naked people in their bedrooms, we should instead expect people to close their curtains. We should not have laws preventing StreetView from collecting unencrypted data, we should expect people to encrypt. Freedom means personal responsibility, getting rid of personal responsibility gets rid of freedom.
Update: Some people have suggested other analogies. One is "lynch mob" instead of "witch hunt". Another is "cry wolf": Google deserves a lot of criticism, but when you attack them for invalid concerns, you destroy your credibility.
Update: You can easily counter the argument of this post by demonstrating how Google can use that overcollected data for evil.