Google opt-out for WiFi database

Access point owners can opt-out of locational database.
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New scheme lets wireless access point owners have their device excluded from Google's location server.

Smartphones including Android and iOS based devices all collect information about WiFi access points including the SSID, MAC address and the geographic location. This information is then uploaded to the cloud and used to speed up location, in addition to cell phone and GPS information.

Google operates one such database, likely the largest in the world, which is used by Android smartphones. Perhaps as a result of the privacy scandals that erupted earlier in the year as the smartphones were shown to log this data automatically, Google said the firm could "do more to address privacy concerns."

Having apparently explored different opt-out approaches, Google announced that the firm would be adopting a system whereby the owner of a WiFi access point can rename the SSID (the name that appears in WiFi scans) with '_nomap' on the end, in which case Google would ignore the data.

"We found that a method based on wireless network names provides the right balance of simplicity as well as protection against abuse," wrote Google privacy Tzar Peter Fleischer on the official Google blog.

Fleischer added that this approach was better than providing an online opt-out page as it stops others from opting out wireless access points without the permission of the owner.

The renamed SSIDs will of course be publicly visible to all so Google is also hoping that other operators of similar databases will also obey the same request.

The locational databases are, however, genuinely useful for smartphone owners so hopefully there will not be a stampede to add _nomap to wireless access point names. That said, for the tin foil hat inclined, Google has a page that provides some tips on how to change the SSID for a range of wireless equipment brands.

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