Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) got tongues wagging again. Today, speculation's buzzing that the firm is going to roll out its own wireless Internet service, possibly called "Google WiFi." This is an old rumor, actually, but it's gained new fuel with the discovery of WiFi-related pages on Google's site inviting users to download a free program called "Secure Access."
This is big and potentially scary news, for a couple of reasons. The first is fairly obvious: If the reports of Google's purchasing of "dark fiber" -- unused bandwidth and network infrastructure -- are true, the firm could conceivably roll out a "last-mile" Internet delivery service. Maintaining and operating all that infrastructure (along with servicing all those WiFi hubs) would be very expensive. But the idea makes more sense if you assume that the company will deploy its real capital once the new WiMax standard, which broadcasts wireless Internet over a much wider area than WiFi, rolls around. Coupling this with an upgraded version of Google Talk could conceivably make the tech startup a force in telecom, a major competitor to eBay's (Nasdaq: EBAY ) Skype or the VoIP-and-data dreams of SBC (NYSE: SBC ) , Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) , and Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA ) .
However, I want to set aside that question for a moment to once more ask an uncomfortable question: How much of your life do you want to put at Google's disposal?
I've already noted several times that Google primarily offers all this really cool free stuff in order to mine your hard drive for information and use it to sell ads. That's why Google's "Secure Access" program -- the first bit of the WiFi strategy to hit the street -- is such a spooky irony. It encrypts your WiFi data streams and filters your net experience through Google's "secure" servers. Basically, Google is saying, "Use our encryption servers so no one will snoop on your data -- except us." The terms by which Google will or will not save, transmit, monetize, report to the authorities, or otherwise exploit data you send through its servers are explained in less-than-clear fashion on a few layers of its privacy pages.
This worry shouldn't just be limited to those of us who fear that the "don't-be-evil" company is moving too quickly toward becoming an Orwellian Big Sibling. How else would you describe an advertising company that might have its Web-bots scanning everything on your hard drive, logging your Internet chats (and your VoIP phone conversations?), and taking a little peek at everything you send across the Internet? That kind of creepy can invite both public backlash and unwanted government regulation.
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Seth Jayson no longer runs anything that gives Big Goog access to his hard drive. At the time of publication, he had positions in no company mentioned here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.