Google wants data on wireless firms

Google underscored that it wants more wireless data in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week that asked the agency to collect, and make available, more information from wireless providers.

The company’s desire for more wireless data became abundantly clear this year when an effort to collect information about Wi-Fi networks led it to accidentally collect private data running over those networks, resulting in a major legal and public relations debacle centered around privacy infringement.

In asking the FCC to collect more information from wireless providers last week, Google acknowledged that such efforts can create privacy conflicts. Buried on the last page of its filing, in a footnote, the company said that collecting wireless data requires some care.

“Passively measured data may need to be anonymized first, with limits on appropriate data sharing, in order to protect user privacy,” the company said.

Google wants to use the wireless data the FCC might collect. It tells the commission to “maximize access to data” and “enable third parties to effectively ‘look under the hood’ of its measurement policies and techniques.”

Google’s stance breaks with that of CTIA, the wireless association, which told the FCC that regulations and new data collection is “unnecessary.” Google is a member of CTIA.

A major reason Google is concerned with the quality of wireless networks is that fluctuations in service impact how users experience its products. “Network management practices … affect application and content performance in ways that are difficult for users to discern and understand,” the filing says. 

Among the data Google wants the FCC to collect: peak and average throughput for both upload and download speeds, latency, jitter, diurnal patterns, signal strength, and network accessibility.

When Google attempted to independently collect information about Wi-Fi networks this year, a software glitch resulted in the collection of private data running over those networks, prompting scrutiny everywhere from the states to Capitol Hill to countries around the world. 

Google filed its comments in an FCC proceeding — launched in June — seeking comment on the best ways to measure mobile broadband speeds, what information would be most useful for consumers, and how the data should be communicated. 

The effort arises from a concern that consumers do not understand what they are getting from mobile companies. In announcing the proceeding, the FCC also released a survey revealing that 80 percent of Americans do not know the speed of their broadband connections.

“Speed matters. The more broadband subscribers know about what speeds they need and what speeds they get, the more they can make the market work and push faster speeds over broadband networks,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement at the time.

*UPDATE: This story was updated on July 13, 2010 to replace the word Wi-Fi with the word "wireless" in three instances.