A new option for location-based services

Tuesday, September 13, 2011 | 12:02 PM


Every day millions of people around the world use location-based services, which rely on a user’s estimated location to provide a better product experience. Google Maps for Mobile, for example, helps people find themselves on a map and then locate places nearby.

Estimating the location of someone using a service can be done in several different ways. As GPS is not always available and locations derived from cell towers aren’t very accurate, Google (like other Internet companies) uses publicly broadcast Wi-Fi data from wireless access points to improve our location-based services. By using signals from access points, smart phones are able to fix their general location quickly without using too much power.

These signals can make products much more useful - by enabling public transport authorities to show you when a bus is expected to arrive at your nearest bus stop, for example.

Even though the wireless access point signals we use in our location services don’t identify people, we think we can go further in protecting people’s privacy. At the request of several European data protection authorities, we are building an opt-out service that will allow an access point owner to opt out from Google's location services. Once opted out, our services will not use that access point to determine users’ locations.

We’ll be making this opt-out available globally, and we’ll release more detailed information about it when it’s ready to launch later this autumn.


B.Bogus said...

"Opt out" is not an option. Google should have obtained permission from each and every access point owner before mapping, cataloging and publishing the access point data.

Google didn't ask us to opt out of having our faces or vehicle license plates displayed on StreetView because they knew the uproar it would have caused had they not blurred the images. Most people are unaware that each wireless access point has a unique ID just as every vehicle has a unique ID (license tag). The main difference is that the wireless access point's ID is only visible electronically. So Google figured they could get away with pinpointing the access point ID on a map and to allow anyone to use the signal without consent the access point's owner.

Bambitroll said...

Another feature that is needed is that ability to reset the location of a router when it is moved! The best would be that the location is then based on the IP or something else.
I am currently using a router in my house which used to be somewhere else and it is amazingly irritating that I can not reset the default location of that router and show up at the wrong place.

pmocek said...

Can one subscribe to updates on the progress of your project?

Duennermann said...

Wow, google is ingenious. If I use opt-out I think that I must leave my realname, so google knows who owns the Router/MAC. Google, do you think we are stupid? The only option is opt-in. It is MY Router and MY MAC and you have to ask me if you want use it. I'll hope that european legislator will show google that they can not do what they want. Maybe this works in the US, but europe aren't the Staates.

Ed Shaz said...

Gosh I hope the gov hammers Google.
Oh wait, you upped lobbying budget, never mind.

Kevin said...

Google isn't stealing your network. Anyone can listen on the WiFi Frequency and hear what Google is hearing. All Google is doing is writing down what they hear (SSID) and where they hear it (Location).

Kevin said...

Google isn't stealing your network. Anyone can listen on the WiFi Frequency and hear what Google is hearing. All Google is doing is writing down what they hear (SSID) and where they hear it (Location).

cloudstarer said...

Dear Sir,

Your suggestion of adding "_nomap" to the SSID of WIFI networks that don't want to be included in Googles database has several flaws.

Firstly, Google has already collected the data and mapped the locations of a large number of networks, is Google proposing to repeat this process to allow people to opt out of the scheme ?

Secondly, not many private individuals have the necessary skill to change their SSID, in a large number of cases their WIFI routers either arrive pre configured, or are set up by a third party.

Thirdly, the SSID is a fixed length field, adding "_nomap" may exceed this length for some.

Fourthly, businesses and companies have naming standards are google proposing that they change their naming standards at Googles behest, will Google be recompensing them for this work ?

I propose a better idea, don't collect WIFI data at all, as it's none of Google's business how many private WIFI networks are out there, any public access points can always submit their location for inclusion if they wish.

It's a war drivers charter, even encrypted networks are vulnerable to intrusion these days and you are amassing a database of the location and name of every WIFI network.

And you propose that we have to "opt out" rather than "opt in", probably because you are concerned that the "opt in" takeup won't be high enough to justify the cost of the scheme.

I suppose a few million people and businesses having to change their WIFI settings as opposed to Google simply not collecting the data is the best solution for Google, I can assure you it is not.

Speaking as a person running a business from home and the owner of an encrypted WIFI network, which I would rather people did not come and try to hack as I use it for company business and the information on it is confidential.

I can state categorically that :-

1 - I will not be changing any details of my network to make Googles life easier, I am not a Google employee, Google have no right to tell me what to do and it is arrogant of Google to assume that they can.


2 - If I find that my SSID has been included in some publicly accessible database that any war driving Tom, Dick or Harry can access or that my company data has been collected from my WIFI network without my explicit permission in writing, then Google will be hearing from my solicitors in very short order and I suspect this will not be the only case.

Barry Lagerweij said...

I wonder who and when this information is collected:

If this is done by the Google streetview cars, then it might take several years(!) before the opt-out is actually registered.

If this is done by devices which have both GPS and WiFi, then the opt-out is registered much faster. But that would also mean that currently Google software is harvesting SSID information, and sending that to the Google Location Servers. I'm not sure how many people are aware of this, and whether this feature can be turned off.

Can someone from Google shed a light on this ?


Sekhar said...


Google specifies a "_nomap" for all people who do not want their Wifi data to be compiled and used for location services. What a shame! - shoudn't Google be saying that users who want their wifi data to be used should name the SSID "_usemap" instead??

I am really piseed as how "opt-in" is the defaul behavior. I hope something similar to Buzz will happen to Google again.