EarthLink and Google won the right to negotiate a contract to provide Wi-Fi service to San Francisco, but privacy advocates are out in force: Why is this an issue here and not in Philadelphia? Because EarthLink is solo in Philadelphia--so far--and hasn't discussed privacy implications much. Google, on the other hand, has talked very specifically about how they'll track and store data about individual behavior to feed them ads. They've even applied for patents for that kind of tracking and delivery.
Interestingly, these kinds of concerns have often been brushed aside or marginalized. This time, with a high-flyer like Google involved, mainstream media and privacy-oriented Web sites and organizations are covering it quite extensively.
The San Francisco Chronicle brings up how requiring a login identity to use the free Google service would allow extremely fine tracking of a person's whereabouts or path through a city even for those using pseudonyms. Google said in its bid, the Chronicle reports, that tracking data would be stored for up to 180 days. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) points out here that once this data exists, law enforcement would come looking to use it. The SF technology department's head Chris Vein, said privacy was an important factor in evaluating bids, but it's hard to see how that's the case yet--the city hasn't started its negotiations, and thus it's unclear whether they'll push for more protection than is in the bid. The SF Metro Connect proposal (Seakay, Cisco, and IBM) had strong privacy guarantees.
The AP notes that Google won't comment on the privacy concerns.
The Media Alliance evaluated the six bids that San Francisco considered, producing a chart that evaluates what's being offered for protecting privacy and what's on the table for digital inclusiveness. For instance, they note that the Philadelphia plan EarthLink has agreed to include advance payments and other methods of providing computers and access to lower-income residents. Their SF bid has no such provisions, although, again, this might happen during negotiations of the details.
EFF and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) assembled this comprehensive comparison of privacy and information gathering details among the six bids.
Jeff Chester raised a number of these issues in his The Nation article two weeks ago, by the way, which I covered at the time, and which received less attention as the EarthLink/Google bid was still one of six.
Meanwhile, Google and EarthLink might work together on another city notwithstanding Google's statement a few days ago that they plan no more Wi-Fi networks beyond Mountain View and San Francisco.