Google Sets Up WiFi Opt-Out Option: Is It Enough?

In response to complaints from the European Union, Google now allows any router to be opted out of the location-based tracking of access point. The router can be opted out by changing the SSID to end in “_nomap.”

The Change and How to Implement It

wifiChanging your SSID to end in “_nomap” is a fairly simple and basically instantaneous way to opt out of Google’s router location catalogue. The “_nomap” addition currently affects only Google’s database, but the company hopes “that over time the ‘_nomap’ string will be adopted universally.”

Google’s announcement of the opt-out process comes with directions for the less technologically savvy users.

The location of WiFi access points, both in residential and commercial areas, are stored in a Google database that gives the approximate location of each router. The primary use of the location database is to allow smartphone users to find their general location with just the use of their phone’s WiFi networking. Some complained, however, that tracking the location of these access points was a violation of privacy. Google clarified that no personal details were viewed or stored, but they nevertheless implemented the requested opt-out option.

Is the Opt-Out Enough?

There are several concerns with the opt-out procedure, including the possibility that it’s too complex. Wayne Rash indicates that your standard consumer will simply be unable to execute the technical change and that Google should instead use WiFi routers only through an opt-in system.

With all due respect to Rash and the team at eWeek, doesn’t that break the entire access point location system? If only those who opt in are present, then no location could ever be determined with any real degree of accuracy. Further, Rash makes an extreme assumption of both user capabilities and the requirements of privacy.

I don’t claim that Google should have unlimited permissions to read and store data, but everything they’re storing is visible to any user who walks by with a smartphone. To me, this seems just as “private” as radio broadcasts or those Dominos Pizza sign-carriers who dance on the corner. A right to opt out seems appropriate, but should Google have to carry the weight for that?

Google’s proposed system isn’t attractive. Still, it’s instant and easy enough that anyone with even basic computer knowledge can get the job done. And if the individual who owns the router can’t make this simple change, do you really think that access point privacy for smartphone location finding is amongst their top priorities?

Do you think that Google’s doing enough? Or is Rash right in saying an opt-in only approach would be better? Do you think you’ll change your router’s SSID? Leave your thoughts in the comments, below.

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