Google’s “Wifi Location Opt-Out” policy is horrible and flawed.

    In one of my previous posts, I wrote how Google and other companies are tracking our locations via Wifi routers. In order to do that, these company must have a database that stores all of the wifi routers it can find, and their locations.

    Google FINALLY just introduced a way to remove your router from their system, however their method is ridiculous, and here’s why.

    Reason #1: The “removal method” is so bothersome, most users won’t use it.

    “You can opt out by changing the SSID of your WiFi access point (your wireless network name) so that it ends with “_nomap”. For example, if your SSID is “12345,” you would need to change it to “12345_nomap”.”

    WHAT? I have to have an ugly SSID and reconfigure every device I own because Google won’t remove my router from their services any other way? You’ve got to be kidding me.
    Companies that have Wireless Networks configured across their fleet of computers can’t suddenly change their SSID, again making it such a pain that companies will not change their SSIDs, and Google doesn’t give them any other way to opt out.

    Additionally, I have no faith that Google (nor other wifi location companies) will do the right thing here. Google’s street cars have already “accidentally” captured wifi communications from users’ wifi networks, breaking privacy laws and Google said “oops! we didn’t mean to!”.

    There’s no law or regulation forcing companies to not capture SSIDs that are listed with “_nomap”.

    Reason #2: You have to tell Google where your router is so that you can “remove it” from their systems.

    “So, for example, one way to ensure that your changed SSID is submitted to Google quickly, open Google Maps on an Android Device with WiFi enabled, and use the My Location feature to establish a location fix in the vicinity of your WiFi access point.”

    You cannot simply search by MAC address to see if it is listed. So if your router isn’t in their system yet, you are telling Google, “Hi, here’s my router” and Google has to put your router’s info in a database of routers that can’t be used for location services.

    Reason #3: It’s still only opt-out.

    I didn’t setup a wifi network so that Google could profit off of knowing where a user was located when they’re nearby my wifi router. Nor did I ever give permission to Google to record this information.

    “But you’re broadcasting your network, anyone can see it!”

    Yes, just as anyone at Safeway with me can see that I’m there, but it doesn’t mean Google should have a right to store that I was there in some database automatically, and then serve me ads on my Google account later. Did Google scan all of our license plates when their street cars went by? What about image capture on the models of cars they drove by, to do a global survey of car models and colors?

    When will the day come when going out in public to shop,or drive to work, is considered “full consent to have my location and behavior stored and re-used by everyone who has the capability to?”

    So what should Google do instead?

    1. Delete their database of locations they’ve unethically collected.
      After all, their unofficial creed is “Don’t be evil“.
    2. Let users who want their wifi network to be used, to be able to opt-in.

    How can I protect my network from Google & other wifi location databases?

    The only way I believe that it is possible to keep your wifi router out of these databases is the following:

    1. Never broadcast your SSID. 
    2. Don’t let any electronics connect to your wireless network that have “wifi location” services enabled.
      This can include iPhones, iPads, Android devices, and more.

    That’s a mighty annoying restriction of actions for most technology fans these days.
    The price for privacy keeps rising every year, and eventually it’s going to be too troublesome for the common person to have any privacy left that someone hasn’t exploited.

    • Anonymous

      Well written.  This is one of those areas where one would hope that just because they’re able-to doesn’t mean they would.  Ah, wishful thinking …