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

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.

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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.

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Topics: Mobility, Google, Networking, Wi-Fi

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14 comments
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  • Google has no right to snoop around in unencrypted routers

    this is a gross violation of privacy and falls in the "Evil" category. I can't wait for someone to snoop around in the googleplex and watch the rich and powerful Google lawyers sue everyone in sight. It is evil to tell the world that grandma has an unencrypted router and to snoop her websites.
    zmud
    • RE: Google offers Street View opt-out for Wi-Fi mapping; Unethical snooping, yet we must opt-out?

      @zmud It's also evil that Google is telling me, you, and everyone else that wants out of the SSID database that we have to change our SSID names with the _nomap tag. While for the greater majority of us here on ZDNet, this is something extremely simple, it's downright impossible for others.

      Google today is worse than Microsoft AND Apple have ever been. This, in and of itself, is proof.
      Champ_Kind
  • RE: Google offers Street View opt-out for Wi-Fi mapping; Unethical snooping, yet we must opt-out?

    This opt out option is a fail. It will require everyone who wants out to replaced all their stored connections in phones, laptops, tablets, PRINTERS!!!!, etc... So it is more than just a "tack this on the end of your network name". I work with small businesses and while I can change the names of the access points in a 25 person company in a few minutes, I then get to deal with writing an email to everyone ahead of time warning of the change, writing one about the change, then dealing with all the calls after the change for everyone who didn't read or understand the emails.

    Does anyone who talks about computers and productivity gains from the "cloud" take this kind of nonsense into account.

    I can just imagine a large site of 1000 or 10000 employees and what they would have to go through to deal with these kinds of "simple" changes.
    raleighthings
    • RE: Google offers Street View opt-out for Wi-Fi mapping; Unethical snooping, yet we must opt-out?

      @raleighthings

      It's the small to mid-sized businesses that will suffer the pains of this. For an individual or a 5-10 person office, it's not that difficult to change the APs, then touch the devices to update the saved profiles (stored connections). The larger businesses likely have tools where they can automate the configs on the endpoint devices, so while a nusance, it's manageable. It's the shops with 20+ up to a few hundred users where it may be a major PITA.

      When it comes down to it, Google's just protecting their own arse and investment here. They could fairly easily create a website where you could search based on address and AP name and then opt out, but god forbid a few users go crazy and opt out some APs that aren't actually their APs and weaken Google's precious datamining efforts.

      And what happens if MS comes along in a year doing the same thing as Google Street View? Will they adhere to Google's naming convention or will the require their own? If they have their own, will I then have to choose which service I want to opt out of, since the string at the end could only match Google's or Microsoft's, but not both?

      This is bush league, plain and simple.
      TroyMcClure
      • RE: Google offers Street View opt-out for Wi-Fi mapping; Unethical snooping, yet we must opt-out?

        @piousmonk

        Even the 5 to 10 person offices I work with can easily have 20 devices that need to be touched. Or more. And this creates hassles and productivity losses. And created ill will to whoever seems to be in charge of the change.

        And with larger companies, yes they have tools. But when the CEO doesn't click on the link to OK the profile change then the next day his wireless stops working, he gets pissed. And even with the tools and everything going reasonably smoothly it still costs money to document, implement, and support such things.
        raleighthings
      • RE: Google offers Street View opt-out for Wi-Fi mapping; Unethical snooping, yet we must opt-out?

        @piousmonk - I'm just thinking home networks at this point.

        I'll use my household as an example. Between myself and my wife, we have a multitude of WiFi-enabled devices - 2 printers, 3 wireless personal computers, 2 smartphones, an iPad, a Nintendo Wii, a Sony PS3, an AppleTV, a Sony Blu-Ray player, a Sony web-connected TV set, her "work" laptop and smartphone, and my "work" laptop and smartphone. That's 17 devices. I also have family and friends that come over and "borrow" my connection from time to time with laptops, tablets, smartphones, Kindles,, iPods, Nintendo DSi devices, Sony PSP devices, game consoles, and occasionally a desktop. (Yes, I know, that's a lot of stuff; it's spread out among 2 dual-band N and 1 G access points to avoid WiFi network congestion.)

        Needless to say, I think Google should be doing the right thing with a MAC address opt-out instead of dictating to us end-users what we need to do with our networks.
        Champ_Kind
  • RE: Google offers Street View opt-out for Wi-Fi mapping; Unethical snooping, yet we must opt-out?

    Dear Google:

    You violated my privacy when you sent your Street View cars around and collected my information without my permission. What you did is EVIL. I should NOT have to modify my SSID to correct for your EVIL Violation of MY PRIVACY.

    There... Is that clear enough for you?
    colomtnwoman@...
    • RE: Google offers Street View opt-out for Wi-Fi mapping; Unethical snooping, yet we must opt-out?

      @colomtnwoman@... Dear you... you advertised information to the whole world, and Google listened. It's like you were running around in the street with no pants on and Google took a picture. They didn't violate your privacy at all. If you wanted privacy your router wouldn't be advertising its SSIDD in the first place.
      jgm@...
  • Agreed

    Over on PC Pro, I already said, it should be opt-in.<br><br>They should only log WiFi access points whose SSID has the suffice "_mapme" or "_domap".<br><br>And changing the SSID means re-registering all of your devices. <img border="0" src="http://www.cnet.com/i/mb/emoticons/sad.gif" alt="sad">

    Edit: http://www.heise.de/ct/schlagseite/2010/14/gross.jpg Cartoon from c't Magazine, by Ritsc & Renn "Google reacts to Critic" (over Streetview)
    wright_is
  • RE: Google offers Street View opt-out for Wi-Fi mapping; Unethical snooping, yet we must opt-out?

    Okay, I guess I will be the 'fanbioi','apologist', 'id10t' and all the other things that this post cause me to be called, BUT:

    If you are truly concerned about privacy, either:

    1) Don't use Wi-Fi: It has known privacy/encryption issues,

    2) If you choose to use Wi-Fi, tune your base station to not broadcast across your property line. The Google cars were on PUBLIC ROADS, and if they intercepted signals, those signals had extended BEYOND private property and onto public. As such, they effectively fell into the public domain.

    3) IF you fail tests 1 & 2, AT LEAST don't broadcast your SSID. That will make finding your access point/base station more difficult to passers by on PUBLIC property.

    That this is an 'issue' shows, again, that people are unwilling to take actions to protect themselves and just want to complain.
    chipbeef
    • RE: Google offers Street View opt-out for Wi-Fi mapping; Unethical snooping, yet we must opt-out?

      @chipbeef

      It's amazing how many people don't understand that.
      aep528
  • RE: Google offers Street View opt-out for Wi-Fi mapping; Unethical snooping, yet we must opt-out?

    This is a non issue, just secure your access point and you won't have a problem.
    ryanmc
  • More fun...

    One of my friends across town and I are going to start swapping our routers every month for the fun of it... That should make for some interesting lost people wondering how they got where they are!
    NotMSUser
  • Much alarmist ado about something that is very useful

    1) If your hotspot isn't secure, then you have far more to worry about from neighbors and others who come and sit near your home, than from a Google car passing by and accidentally collecting a few seconds of some web site you're surfing right at that moment.

    2) Without the hotspot info, the original iPhone would've been almost useless for location services outside of the multi-miles wide cell id method. Even now, hotspots are a much quicker and usually less battery intensive method than using GPS.

    3) Google isn't the only one collecting hotspot location info. Public domain locating projects did it for years before Google. Skyhook of course is a famous collector, as Apple used their code at first in the iPhone.

    Heck, EVEN APPLE NOW COLLECTS HOTSPOT INFO EVERY TIME YOU USE YOUR IPHONE, in order to build up their own database which iOS has used for the past year or so.
    kevindarling