Google offers Street View opt-out for Wi-Fi mapping; Unethical snooping, yet we must opt-out?

Summary:Google finally made its opt-out service available today, allowing users to remove themselves from a location database that was populated by its controversial Street View cars.

Google is offering an opt-out solution to the Street View mapping service, for those who use nearby wireless hotspots to determine their physical location.

But let's backtrack for a second.

Google sent around its Wi-Fi enabled Street View cars around the United States and Europe, and further afield. In doing so, it inadvertently collected not only the names and unique MAC addresses of wireless routers of businesses and private residences, but also collected payload data from hotspots that had no wireless encryption. Google admitted that the system not only captured wireless data, but also passwords, emails and URLs of websites visited.

The location-mapping service allows users of Google Maps and other applications that uses Google's location database to look up nearby wireless hotspots instead of using GPS. Because hotspots usually stay in the same place, it's easier to use location-assist methods by tying in the physical location of the hotspot to where it was recorded from.

The search giant was forced by European privacy regulators to offer an opt-out service, and announced it in a corporate blog post earlier this year. Even though the company is battling an onset of lawsuits and angry U.S. federal judges seeking out the chance to prosecute the search giant, Google is certainly paying its dues. The search giant has however ceased collecting wireless hotspot data through its Street View cars.

Today, however, Google is making its opt-out service available, and has specific and detailed advice on how to completely remove the hotspot from the database of Wi-Fi hotspots that the company in some cases illegally obtained.

Simply add _nomap to the end of your wireless routers' name, and whenever someone nearby tries to use it, it will bounce back silently, and Google will take it off the database within a few minutes.

Even after causing one almighty storm of data protection breaches and privacy issues, only now is it letting people opt-out of the service? Surely amidst everything, it should be an opt-in service?

Granted, opt-out is better than nothing, but considering our collective privacy has been violated by Street View cars, it does make one wonder why they haven't scrapped the system altogether. To be fair, having an opt-in system would not make for a very good product, but then again, Google should have thought of that when it violated millions of people's privacy.

Whether it will be enough to quell the ongoing law suits and legal cases, we shall see.

Related:

Topics: Mobility, Google, Networking, Wi-Fi

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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