Google’s desire to put the so-called Wi-Spy scandal to bed by releasing an unredacted copy of the recent FCC report on the matter has done the opposite. It showed that the capture of a broad array of “consumer payload” data was intended and that multiple people at the company were informed of the practice. Accordingly it has fueled unflattering coverage that plays into the company’s growing “Big Brother” image.
In the latest installment of the saga, the New York Times earlier today reported that the “rogue engineer” who was responsible for writing the code to grab the payload data has been identified:
Now a former state investigator involved in another inquiry into Street View has identified Engineer Doe. The former investigator said he was Marius Milner, a programmer with a background in telecommunications who is highly regarded in the field of Wi-Fi networking, essential to the project.
Here’s his LinkedIn profile:
As many people have already pointed out, Milner (who now works at YouTube) is no “random dude.” He’s a very skilled and high profile engineer who was brought in specifically to write code for Street View because of his WiFi and wireless industry expertise. One testimonial on Milner’s LinkedIn page describes him as “GOD in the wireless community”:
He has revolutionized the wireless community with his software and allowed many companies to use his software to their advantage to make sure they have a secure wireless network. He is a GOD in the wireless community
So far this scandal is really an “inside baseball” phenomenon, though it indirectly hurts Google’s antitrust investigations in the US and Europe. Regular Google users are still probably not impacted by any of the coverage.
However, because I don’t watch TV I don’t know how much play this is getting, for example, on Fox News or CNN. Those outlets and their characterization of what happened could damage Google’s reputation with the public. Again that hasn’t yet happened in all likelihood. But Google is now associated in at least a couple of recent instances with disregard for consumer privacy and dissembling about it.
Microsoft has tried sporadically in the past to capitalize on privacy scandals involving Google. There is another opening for Bing here with political-style “negative advertising” to highlight these privacy problems and represent itself as the guardian of consumer privacy. We’ll see how aggressive and opportunistic Microsoft is.
And like a political scandal that keeps growing, I don’t think this issue is going away for Google unless there are more and higher level mea culpas. However that also risks shining more light on a very unseemly episode.