On Radio 4’s Today program this morning, Evan Davies interviewed Google’s Director of Communications for Europe. His name is Peter Barron, or maybe Baron, and he was adamant that the recording of wi-fi networks was all an unfortunate mistake.
He, and everyone else at Google, “Had no idea that the program was on the cars.” Which also meant that he and no-one else at Google knew that all the cars had wi-fi antennas and a computer garnering the information.
He said that Google hasn’t erased all the data yet, but that all the data for Ireland, Denmark and Austria had indeed been wiped by now. He also repeated the story that the code for capturing information about wi-fi networks had been written by a Google engineer some years ago, and it had all been a mistake.
Well, this still will not do.
The program and the kit could not have been put on a Europe-wide fleet of cars by mistake. Whether or not our privacy really has been invaded, and no matter that it probably was for the benign objective of making Google’s service better, the company is not telling the truth as far as I can tell.
If they were to say, “Yes. Of course we knew about it, and collected the wi-fi data in order to make our service better for you,” I’d think rather better of them. The line about it all being a mistake is clearly not true. So why are they afraid of admitting the truth?
Part of it will be because of things like Data Protection laws, and the mess Facebook is in concerning its privacy controls, and part of it is an understandable fear of being compared with Big Brother.
But, at the heart of it, I suspect this is more to do with Google’s share price, stock options, and so on.
My grandmother used to tell me that honesty is the best policy. And John Lennon put it in a song, “Gimme The Truth” which is on The Imagine LP. I might send a copy to Mr Barron, or is it Baron? Or would that be a mistake?