Wi-fi in airports has always been a diabolical scam that frustrates people to no end. Well, there is an end. It's murder. I haven't gotten to that end yet, but I've gotten close. Now Google, the Great Provider Of Free Stuff and also The Ones Who Punched Me In The Face, are going to give it for free this holiday season. You sit down at your gate, turn on your computer, and you have Internet connectivity. They even offer a "donate" option for those in the holoday spirit. Yipee.
Now, for the paranoia.
What does Google stand to gain by this? All they are doing is paying companies like Boingo for their service so that they can give it to the user for free. Let's say you pay 10 bucks for 20 minutes of Internet. Google will not make that much off of you in 20 minutes. So they will likely lose cash on this.
Why is it only for the holiday season? If they wanted entry into the airport wifi market, they would set something up a little more permanent. I guarantee you that they are not doing this out of pure holiday jubilation.
Let's start with this: Google is not in the business of service delivery. They are in the business of data. And they have the best business model ever. Everything they give you for free, you really are giving them your data. This data is more valuable then you'll ever know, because it isn't your data that's valuable, rather the same data coming from millions of people. You may get access to all that data, but in the end, it belongs to them. And it makes them very powerful.
So this is what I think: Google doesn't want to make you happy. It wants data on travellers. It wants to know where you browse, what you search for, how long you stay on sites, if you're working or goofing off, and if it is worth it for them to make permanent deals with wi-fi providers to grant them that data. If this little data experiment shows that data mining air travellers is profitable, you'll likely see google search as a default search option in the Boingo browser home page. You'll get an option to download google toolbar when you install the Boingo client, and your data will belong to them.
Another option would be that Google is considering acquiring Boingo (or others) and actually rolling out a free wifi service based on ads, but that doesn't seem likely given the insane profit margins Boingo likely has.
This is something to keep track of, and it should not be dismissed as philanthropy.
Edit: I'm probably wrong about my theory. Here's an article that gives a much better motive to the madness.