Greater choice for wireless access point owners

Tuesday, November 15, 2011 | 7:55 AM

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(Cross posted on Official Google Blog)

From tagging a post with your location, to checking in to a restaurant, to simply finding out where you are, location-based services have become some of the most popular features of today’s Internet. One of the key ways technology companies are able to determine a location for these services is through a location database, which matches publicly broadcast information about local wireless networks with their approximate geographic location. By looking for wireless access points that are close to a user’s phone, location providers can return the approximate location you need. In addition, this method is a good alternative to other approaches, like GPS, because it’s faster, it works indoors, and it’s more battery-efficient.

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.

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”.

To get started, visit this Help Center article to learn more about the process and to find links with specific instructions on how to change an access point’s SSID for various wireless access point manufacturers.

As we explored different approaches for opting-out access points from the Google Location Server, we found that a method based on wireless network names provides the right balance of simplicity as well as protection against abuse. Specifically, this approach helps protect against others opting out your access point without your permission.

Finally, because other location providers will also be able to observe these opt-outs, we hope that over time the “_nomap” string will be adopted universally. This would help benefit all users by providing everyone with a unified opt-out process regardless of location provider.

Update Nov 21: Edited punctuation to clarify the "_nomap" tag.

14 comments:

Stuart Lewis said...

Wouldn't it be fairer to have an opt-in policy, rather than requiring many people to change their SSIDS? I suspect a large number of wifi router owners don't read announcements such as this, or know how to update their network names.

Søren said...

May I suggest that you change this to an optin procedure? So if I wanted to be added to your location database (or any other location database) I would add "_NoPrivacy" to my SSID

dutchman said...

I find it ridiculous that Google is forcing people to rename their SSID's. Maybe Google would also like to start tracking people some day.. Using a similar technique, I suppose you could opt out by wearing a big ugly hat that says "OPT OUT" on it.

I think that unless this policy is changed, Google needs to seriously consider finding a new tag line.

Dave said...

Why not make it "_yesmap" instead of "_nomap". Thus changing it from active opt-out to active opt-in.

Most normal user do not know how to change the SSID or what it means.
I do not want to create a ugly SSID because Google demands it if i do not want my Wireless Network to be mapped.

Placiplóstilus said...

Are you kidding me? So, If I don want you to use my Wireless I have to change it? Shouldn`t you ask the people if they want to help you? Maybe people should add "_yesmap" to their wireless?

Buuuuuuuuuuuhhh

Marco said...

"we can do more to address privacy concerns": yes, make the service opt-in!

Alx Klive said...

This policy seems poorly implemented at best.

Google had an opportunity here to do something truly innovative and progressive. Adding a '_nomap' tag to an SSID is borderline insulting to people, and if the 98% of people who don't know what it means, did know what it meant (and could actually do it), there would surely be an uproar.

Google could have set a much better example compared to competitors (who I accept are doing the same core thing) by releasing a dedicated Privacy app, allowing users to opt out of the Google Location service simply, without needing to change their SSID, and could go further to allow other private data to be viewed and controlled easily. This would be progressive.

I appreciate that it's a competitive marketplace and there must have been internal debate over this, but this approach reeks of sleaziness, and was unnecessary in this case.

Privacy issues will explode in people's mindsets at some point. This can potentially be avoided by being ahead of the curve and putting all privacy readily in the control of the user.

Jeroen said...

So..

You're making us jump trough hoops because you can't be bothered to respect our privacy?

I think more than 75% of the average home user has no idea how to rename a network.
A webpage where they could do the removal with a few mouse clicks would have made a lot more sense.

No Google, this is poor performance and right up there with snagging data and keeping it.

Adrian Hayter said...

I would like to know what happens to users with hidden SSIDs. From what I've come to understand, your WiFi scanner collects the BSSIDs (MAC addresses) of access points it finds, which are obtainable even if the access point has a hidden SSID.

So what happens if your find a BSSID which cannot resolve an SSID? Do you default to an opt-in, or do you default to an opt-out? I would hope that you opt-out by default if the SSID is hidden, but if not, I would still like to know.

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.

and

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.

Marco van Weel said...

If I'm not mistaken, my network's SSID is only broadcasted locally. If I would change my SSID like described in the 'help' (?) pages, my wireless access point will remain being used for location purposes until the next time a Google Street View car drives by and Google notices my SSID has changed. IMHO this is not even opt-out, as it can take many years before Google starts reindexing for Street View. This is no solution, this is only an effort to to change the public's (and politic's) opinion regarding the illegal way of gathering location data. Google and respecting privacy apparently do not match.

cloudstarer said...

I see

Comments threatening legal action don't get published.

You'd better remove the one that I posted on the help centre article at the same time I posted here then.

cloudstarer said...

So the world should jump through googles hoop so google can make even more profit by using the data it already gathered without bothering to inform anyone or ask permission first ?

No, I'm not changing anything at googles behest, I get no benefit from this whatsoever.

And if my company network is used for any purpose without my explicit written permission or if my private company data appears anywhere on the web then the persons responsible will be hearing from my solicitors.

Anon0AXERUmY said...

This should be an opt-in feature, not opt-out.