by CIO Staff

San Francisco to Push Google on Privacy

May 22, 20063 mins

San Francisco will push Google and EarthLink  for greater privacy protections than the companies outlined in their proposal for a citywide wireless Internet service, officials said Friday.

In negotiations with the companies, expected to begin soon, the city will seek an “opt-in” system for users to share personal information, notification of users when there are legal requests for their information and a commitment from the operators on how long they will keep user data they collect, said Brian Roberts, a senior policy analyst for the city’s Policy, Planning and Compliance Division. He spoke at the latest hearing by the Local Agency Formation Committee, a utilities oversight body for the combined city and county of San Francisco.

In a letter to the city last month, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and two other groups slammed the Google-EarthLink plan for lacking those commitments and others. Privacy is a central concern among critics of Google and EarthLink’s citywide network plan, which would include a free 300Kbps service supported by targeted advertising in addition to a faster paid service.

Although it will push for those three conditions, the city wouldn’t commit itself to demanding them outright while negotiating a contract. It’s risky for the city to reveal what it considers non-negotiable, because the vendors don’t have to reveal the same information, Roberts said.

The EFF hopes the city will make its privacy criteria less negotiable rather than more, said Seth Schoen, staff technologist at EFF. County Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi gave a similar view and raised the specter of the city changing direction.

“I don’t know what the bottom line is for us in the city,” Mirkarimi said. “What is an acceptable standard? When … do we decide that that’s not an acceptable agreement and that an RFP potentially should be provided for a municipally owned system?”

The city also appears ready to satisfy critics who had called for a proof-of-concept network before committing itself to a full rollout. Civitium, a wireless consulting firm hired by the city, recommended the deployment of a trial network and the city agreed, said Greg Richardson, a managing partner at Civitium.

Mirkarimi also continued to call for more consideration of municipal ownership, possibly as a second alternative if the city can’t reach an agreement with Google/EarthLink.

Meanwhile, the city may someday offer broadband over fiber, according to Roberts. As part of a study of its optical fiber infrastructure, the city will consider deploying fiber to every home in San Francisco, a technology concept that has raised eyebrows for its enormous cost even when proposed by giant Verizon Communications.

The city has 42 miles of fiber for uses such as public safety, and Roberts estimated it would take 800 miles to reach all homes and businesses. Because a fiber network involves massive infrastructure work and fixed assets, and doesn’t need to be upgraded often as a wireless network does, it’s more suited to city ownership, Roberts said. The study, expected to begin in about two weeks, would take about four months, he said.

-Stephen Lawson, IDG News Service

For related news coverage, read San Francisco Wi-Fi Plan to Face More Heat.

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