Google OnHub: could this be a WiFi spy? (revised)

Would you invite the world’s largest advertising corporation to take all the information that it wants from inside your home or business network? And pay them nearly $200 for the privilege?

Whatever else it might be, Google – or is it Alphabet? – makes much of its $66 billion annual revenue (2014) from advertising, and a lot of that is honed and targeted thanks to the information which it collects about our searching and browsing.

I was surprised, then, to hear of the new OnHub WiFi router being offered for pre-order in the US and Canada (only at present) by Google. Although its specs seem alluring, would I really want to invite an advertising corporation inside my firewall?

It didn’t take me long to reach a conclusion. Check the OnHub Terms of Service: down at 7 b, it reads:
“You agree that Google may collect and use technical and related information, including but not limited to information about your computer and/or mobile device, operating system, peripherals, applications, connected devices, network traffic, and data use to facilitate the provision of the Software and Services, including support and other related services. The OnHub Privacy FAQ describes the categories of data collected and how you can use privacy settings to change what data is collected by the Services.”

Caveat emptor!

I have now been able to locate Goggle’s detailed account of data collected, in the OnHub Help. This explicitly states:
“Importantly, the Google On app and your OnHub do not track the websites you visit or collect the content of any traffic on your network. However, OnHub does collect data such as Wi-Fi channel, signal strength, and device types that are relevant to optimize your Wi-Fi performance. Google policies and terms of services apply as normal to any Google services you use (like Gmail or Google search), whether you’re using them on an OnHub network or not.”

In case you are in any doubt as to what Google more generally does with the data which it collects, read its general privacy policy, which says:
“We use the information we collect from all of our services to provide, maintain, protect and improve them, to develop new ones, and to protect Google and our users. We also use this information to offer you tailored content – like giving you more relevant search results and ads.”

Oh, and when you next use your GoogleMail account, bear in mind that Google also writes (lower down in its privacy policy):
“Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection.”

So if you start an email discussion with friends about your holiday next year, don’t be surprised if Google ads start offering you some choice holiday destinations.

It will be very interesting to see exactly what the OnHub does collect when it ships at the end of this month.

Thanks to Ian Betteridge for drawing my attention to the OnHub. I have in return offered him this humble submission to the official records of Betteridge’s Law.