Google Wi-Fi Database Opt-Out is a Cop Out


google maps with streetview

The days of cable connectivity are coming to an end, but with technological advances security should still be at the forefront of our minds. How important is your privacy to you? If you’re on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll probably be used to adjusting your privacy settings when required. You might not be that bothered anyway, and as the wireless world offers plenty of opportunities for snoops to be nosy (just check out what’s happening in the UK with the phone hacking scandal), but it’s best to be on the safe side.

This brings us nicely to the acts of search engine giant Google. You’ll know that Google logs where Wi-fi routers are to help with its location pinpointing services. You may not be particularly bothered about sharing your location because you might want to get the location services provided. However, we don’t all want to share everything, and though Google’s location server doesn’t, they say, identify people, you now have the option to rename your Wi-fi router so that the location will be ignored.

From PCWorld.com

To refresh your memory, Google collects basic Wi-Fi data from network routers including Service Set Identifier (SSID) information and Media Access Control (MAC) addresses. This information is used to help the company improve the accuracy of some of its location-based products, such as Google Maps, by matching publicly broadcast information about local wireless networks with their approximate geographic location. This method of location approximation can be more efficient than GPS, as it’s faster and works indoors, as well as being more battery-efficient.

When Google’s Streetview camera cars were operating the location of each Wi-fi hotspot was logged and sometimes, accidentally, swallowed into the data maw. The records are still there, but updated every time someone uses Google maps and then bothers to get a GPS fix.

In order to opt-out of the database you need to rename your router with a trailing “_nomap”, and so the GPS fix is nixed. If your network SSID is ‘Home network’, you will need to change it to Home network_nomap’.  Anything else you can do? Not really. In the end, as the Wi-fi router owner, you’re the boss but is this really an acceptable solution? Nobody was asked for permission to be in Google’s geo-database so why should the onus be on the invididual to opt-out? Is this another example of a corporation reaching into the private lives of the individual or an acceptable price to pay for a useful service?

 




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Filed in: Home Networking Gear, Industry Buzz


  • Gene Simmons

    If they can drive by you location and pick up your SSID, then that’s on you. Most routers and access points allow you to hide or not transmit your SSID. It’s not like they are hacking your router, they are simply driving by and picking up whatever information you are transmitting. If your that concerned about privacy, then perhaps you shouldn’t be transmitting it.

  • http://www.ehomeupgrade.com/editor/ Editor

    Whilst I agree that transmitting your SSID is not the smartest thing in the world, I would argue that picking up the signal and storing the information about that signal are two different issues. Especially if you consider that the information is being stored and used without permission.

  • Duane Lawrence

    I wish to point out the difficulty of buying a router that is NOT wireless capable, last time I tried, I could not find one.  So because I like privacy, I disabled the wireless, problem solved.

    Google gives me a benefit, searches
    that make a difference in my life. 
    Compare this to any other company on the planet, none can match it.  I let Google track and store data on me
    because I get a free benefit from Google, but I like to do so in an informed
    way, meaning I want to know what data Google is keep on me.  I am surprised a couple of times per year by
    what data Google is keeping on me.

     

    I make a living as a SQL Server
    database administrator.  I am not
    affiliated in any way with Google, no stock, no kick backs, nothing.  This is simply my opinion.

  • http://eHomeUpgrade.com eHomeUpgrade

    Interesting and valid opinion Duane. I would argue that those service are only free in terms of monetary cost.

    It’s really about the trade off between the benefit we derive from the services Google supply based on our data and the cost in privacy of supplying that data. Permission and awareness are the key issues here. Most people won’t know or think to turn the transmission off. Most people won’t know what kind of data Google keeps on them as a results. Perhaps it’s benign in this case. Who is to say it will always be that way?

  • http://eHomeUpgrade.com eHomeUpgrade

    Whilst I agree that transmitting your SSID is not the smartest thing in the world, I would argue that picking up the signal and storing the information about that signal are two different issues. Especially if you consider that the information is being stored and used without permission.

  • John Freas

    In the USA, it is legal to receive any broadcast signal.  Period.  The fact that it is being broadcast makes it open to reception without any further responsibility on the part of the receiver.  This is not opinion, it is FCC regulation.  That is why satellite rado and TV providers encode their signals; anyone is legally allowed to receive a broadcast signal, and once received, if your receiver is capable of turning the signal into something other than static, you can use the content too (watch TV, listen to radio, etc.)

    Receiving a broadcast signal from a wireless router is no different.  It’s a radio.  The broadcaster (router owner) is responsible for the content of their broadcast and the ability of others to access it.  The fact that many people don’t know how the rules work, or why, doesn’t make the actions of those who do unethical.