Google details simple method to opt out of Wi-Fi location database

By on November 15, 2011, 5:30 PM

Google is now offering a simple way for owners of Wi-Fi networks to opt out of the company’s location database. The search giant was at the center of a privacy debate on the subject over the summer when CNET drew attention to the subject.

Here’s how the whole process works and what you can to do prevent it. Wi-Fi enabled devices transmit a unique hardware identifier called a MAC address to anything that can read it within a radius of a couple hundred feet.  Android smartphones and tablets collect these identifiers and send them back to Google for inclusion in their Google Location Server.

Google uses this data to provide faster location detection services than standard GPS can provide. The problem that was discovered over the summer is that Google made their location databases publically available on the Internet. Furthermore it was reported that Street View cars actually collected the location of Wi-Fi devices in addition to simply snapping photos along roadways. The company stopped deploying Street View vehicles in Germany, although not specifically for this reason, nor was any other explanation given.

Google is addressing the issue today by providing users a simple way to exclude their networks from being cataloged. To opt out of the database, simply add the text “_nomap” to the name of your Wi-Fi network. For example, if your network is named “billsinternet”, you should change it to “billsinternet_nomap”.

Of course, Google isn’t the only guilty party here, as Apple and Microsoft were both accused of collecting similar data earlier this year.

Image courtesy of Alexander Lukin / Shutterstock

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