Google: A 'Big Brother' for Our Times?

10 April 2006

Google's latest move is seen by some critics - especially those familiar with George Orwell's foreboding vision of the future - as another backward squirm from the search engine's famed corporate principle: 'Don't be Evil'.

Sergey and Brin's acolytes are currently touting a scheme whereby Google is able to track the whereabouts of users to within 100-200 feet of their location.

This will be achieved via new citywide wireless networks that aim to firmly fix Googlers in the advertising crosswires of local businesses.

In partnership with ISP Earthlink, Google was last week awarded "preferred bidder" status by the city of San Francisco to install a free wireless internet service. Earthlink, however, will charge a fee for providing a faster web connection.

Among the five other bidders for the scheme was a not-for-profit group led by by Cisco Systems and IBM.

A similar scheme is already under way in Mountain View, California, where Google's headquarters campus is sited. It is expected to go live this summer, with the San Francisco wi-fi network becoming operational by the year end.

Web surfers connecting via wi-fi transmitters placed around cities can be located to within a couple of blocks. This opens up an advertising Valhalla for Google, enabling it to serve tightly focused ads on its web pages from businesses in the immediate area.

The Mountain View and San Francisco trials are clearly a template for something infinitely larger. Today San Francisco - tomorrow the world!

Data sourced from Financial Times Online; additional content by WARC staff