But that's not all. It turns out that for at least three years, Google Street View cars have been capturing identifying data from home Wi-Fi networks. You went to the time and trouble to set up your Wi-Fi network, and Google has been capturing data it broadcasts for their own purposes. Google claims that the data capture was an accident caused by code from an earlier version of the software they use.
One possible outcome of the many lawsuits and investigations this discovery set in motion is that Google may have intended all along to capture every possible MAC address (a number that is unique to each Wi-Fi network), but capturing other data (which is both potentially private and useless to Google) may have been the accidental part.
The purpose of sucking down data from your home Wi-Fi network is the same as taking a picture of your house: Location. By associating your network's MAC address with a specific location on your street, Google can build a database that augments, or substitutes for, GPS location.
Oddly enough, Street View picture taking is considered acceptable in most countries (with Germany one vocal exception), and Wi-Fi data slurping an outrageous violation. In fact, both are doing roughly the same thing.
In the case of the photos, electromagnetic radiation in the visible spectrum (a.k.a. "light") is bouncing off your house and radiating beyond your property line to be captured by Street View cameras from the public street. With Wi-Fi, electromagnetic radiation broadcast by your networking equipment radiates out beyond your property line and is -- or was -- captured by Google sensors.
In both cases, when a Google user can match the electromagnetic patterns in the real world with the one in Google's database, Google can tell them (or advertisers) where the user is.
Way to go! All those chores you do around the house are really paying off -- for Google!
So you're doing work and Google benefits. Big deal, right? Lots of Web sites get rich from your work.
In fact, the whole Web 2.0 world is built on the actions of users. If you use Facebook, Digg, Twitter or any number of other social or Web 2.0 service, you know the value is created by the actions of users.
But in the case of the social web, you give and receive. It's an opt-in system where the use of your labor and participation is voluntarily given in exchange for the benefits of other users' participation.
But with reCAPTCHA and Street View, the people doing the work aren't necessarily Google users. Even if you have decided not to use Google -- even if you're boycotting Google -- you still may be doing work free of charge for the company.
Is this some evil plan that should be opposed? Not at all. This is the future, and Google just got there first. Ultimately, both reCAPTCHA and Street View benefit mankind in some profound way. At least that's my opinion. But if you have a different view, you'll do the work and Google will get the benefit just the same.
The bottom line is that you might as well be a Google user -- because Google is using you, too.