Google to Allow Users to Opt Out of WiFi Location Mapping System

Google, which has faced a pile of criticism over its privacy policies and practices, especially as they relate to wireless and mobile devices, says it is changing the way that it maps people’s wireless access points in its efforts to provide accurate location information. The company said it is now encouraging users to add a “_nomap” extension to the SSID of their access points if they don’t want Google to map them.

Google WiFiGoogle, which has faced a pile of criticism over its privacy policies and practices, especially as they relate to wireless and mobile devices, says it is changing the way that it maps people’s wireless access points in its efforts to provide accurate location information. The company said it is now encouraging users to add a “_nomap” extension to the SSID of their access points if they don’t want Google to map them.

The change is a small one and it doesn’t change Google’s policy overall. It puts the onus on users to make the change in their router’s configuration to prevent Google from mapping it. Whether users will make that effort–or even understand how to do it–is unclear. In most cases, users simply need to log in to the admin panel of their wireless router or access point and change the name to add the “_nomap” extension to the end.

Google and other companies use the data that access point broadcast to build a database of the access points’ location. It then uses that data to pinpoint users’ location when they’re using location-based services such as Google Maps on a smartphone or other mobile device. The data is used to supplement or replace GPS or cell-tower location data.

The practice has drawn sharp criticism from users and privacy advocates who question why the company is collecting and storing data about users’ home networks at all.

“The wireless access point information we use in our location database, the Google Location Server, doesn’t identify people. But as first mentioned in September, we can do more to address privacy concerns,” Peter Fleischer, Google’s global privacy counsel, said in a blog post explaining the change.
“We’re introducing a method that lets you opt out of having your wireless access point included in the Google Location Server. To opt out, visit your access point’s settings and change the wireless network name (or SSID) so that it ends with ‘_nomap.’ For example, if your SSID is ‘Network,’ you’d need to change it to ‘Network_nomap.'”

There are other companies that collect and use similar data, including Apple, which became embroiled in a controversy in April when researches discovered that iPhones had a database of location data stored on them. Apple said, as Google did, that it doesn’t track users’ locations, but rather uses the data on which wireless hotspots the users have accessed to help calculate locations.

“Calculating a phone’s location using just GPS satellite data can take up to several minutes. iPhone can reduce this time to just a few seconds by using Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data to quickly find GPS satellites, and even triangulate its location using just Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data when GPS is not available (such as indoors or in basements). These calculations are performed live on the iPhone using a crowd-sourced database of Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data that is generated by tens of millions of iPhones sending the geo-tagged locations of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers in an anonymous and encrypted form to Apple,” the company said in an FAQ it published after the research was disclosed.

In his blog post, Google’s Fleischer said that other companies could use the opt-out mechanism it has recommended for users, as well.

Suggested articles

Discussion

  • asmiller-ke6seh on

    "What do you mean that you didn't expect a fleet of Vogon Destructor Ships?! The notice has been posted for the last 240 of your solar revolutions..."

    OPT-OUT = WRONG

    OPT-IN = BETTER, although not quite optimum...

    So long, and thanks for all the fish.............

  • Anonymous on

    Fuck Google... why should I have to change my SSID so they will not tell the world I have WiFi... so does the 'nomap' also include adding my house to Google Maps...?

  • Anonymouse on

    Additionally, homeowners must place a "NO SMASH" sticker on their postbox or the bored Google van drivers will knock it off the post into right field with a Louisville Slugger.

  • Anonymous on

    1. This will have no effect on data already collected, as a minimum Google should provide a means of removing specific devices from it's database.

    2. Google use the BSSID in it's location database, in order to use this opt-out, owners will need to enable broadcasting of their SSID which many people prefer not to do for security reasons.

  • Sniper on

    Well done Google. So the whole world has to change their access point names and reconfigure all of their connected devices, rather than you having to change a few lines of code?

  • Anonymous on

    This whole thing seems a bit strange to me. How can you locate based off of SSID's? I was just checking the web to see if a more unique piece of data is in the SSID broadcasts like a MAC address for example, but I'm not seeing anything? How many of the SSID's are "Linksys"? Out of the "Linksys" SSID's how many people are going to have any clue how to change it? The article also leaves out the fact that you have to reconnect all of your devices after changing your SSID. Legally Google is in the right because I believe somewhere in current law it says that if you broadcast a signal into the airwaves you no longer have any right over it. Off the record, I don't think you have permiission use my SSID as a navigation system without paying me a fee for operating it.

    In addition they say there is no personal information, yet half of my neighbors wireless SSID are simular to the format "The Smith Family". When i really thing about it there is a much better solution...disable your SSID. I'm not completely in agreement with them using me as a BOT in their navigation system but telling them not to is like saying that it is illegal for them to note down what I say if I stand in my yard and scream.

  • Anonymous on

    I changed my ssid to F**KYOU_GOOGLE locate that Lmfao

  • Anonymous on

    Yeah, the privacy laws in the US really keep the consumer's best interest at heart.

     

    Now, if only would invent a sarcasm font....at least that would be VERY useful. 

  • abubbleshooter.info on

    I like checking your articles, this page was added to my favorites in firefox.

Subscribe to our newsletter, Threatpost Today!

Get the latest breaking news delivered daily to your inbox.