Google has announced that it will offer owners of residential Wi-Fi routers around the world the option of removing their devices from a registry it uses to determine mobile users' locations. The move comes as the search giant faces mounting pressure from European regulators who warned them in May that such collection of data violated European law.
According to Google, since GPS is not always available and many applications require location data to work, the company must use another method to determine a person's location. They also use data from nearby cell towers, but Google believes this is not always accurate and decided to access publicly broadcast Wi-Fi data from wireless access points to improve location-based services like Google Maps and others. The company says the data collected is entirely anonymous and it helps find a device's location faster and without battery drain.
"Even though the wireless access point signals we use in our location services don't identify people, we think we can go further in protecting people's privacy," wrote Google’s Global Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer in a company blog post. "At the request of several European data protection authorities, we are building an opt-out service that will allow an access point owner to opt out from Google's location services." The system will launch globally this fall.
Google is not the only company that has drawn scrutiny for its practice of gathering location data. Earlier this year Apple was also in the spotlight after researchers found files on the iPhone that routinely logged the location of users, which was saved unencrypted and unprotected on any machine that users synced their iOS device with. The company addressed the issue with a software fix that erased the file when users' disabled location services.