How to keep your Wi-Fi location out of Google

How to keep your Wi-Fi location out of Google

Summary: Little did we know that those cute Google Street View cars were also mapping our Wi-Fi access points. Now, you can opt out of Google's Wi-Fi maps.

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Busted! A Google Street View car.

Busted! A Wi-Fi snooping Google Street View car.

This summer it was revealed that Google Street View cars, besides taking photos of your neighborhood, were also collecting the street addresses, Wi-Fi service set identifier (SSID), and the unique Media Access Control (MAC) identification information for computers, Wi-Fi access points (AP)s, and routers. Worse still, Google was, apparently by accident, also grabbing unencrypted passwords and e-mails. Yack!

While Google quickly backed off grabbing people's personal data, the company's Google Street View cars are continuing to pick up Wi-Fi access points and routers' unique MACs, SSIDs, and physical addresses.

Google uses this information to improve its Google Map and other location-based services, but what if you don't want to contribute to this effort? Until recently, you were stuck.

Now, Google will let you opt-out. Frankly, I think it would be a lot better if they only recorded your Wi-Fi equipment's location if you opted in, but it is what it is.

Here's how you do it. The key is you have to change the SSID of your Wi-Fi access point so that it ends with "_nomap". For example, if your SSID is "catdog" you would need to change it to "catdog_nomap".

Here are instructions on some of the most common Wi-Fi AP brands.

On many access points, you can access its controls by which you can change its SSID using the following steps:

  • Use an Ethernet cable to make a physical connection between your access point and your computer.
  • Find the IP address for your the default gateway/AP. To do this:
  • On Windows, type 'ipconfig' into the command prompt (accessed from the start menu).
  • On Mac OS, type 'ifconfig' into the command prompt.
  • On Linux, type 'ifconfig' into the shell prompt.
  • Once you have the default gateway (it will look like 192.168.0.1), type it into the address bar of your Web browser, this will take you to the Web-based control panel for your access point.
  • You will then need to sign in to your AP's control panel.
  • Here, for example, is what it looks like to change the SSID on my Netgear N750 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router (WNDR4000).

    First, I need to go to my AP address from a Web browser. In my case, that was 192.168.0.130. More common AP addresses are 192.168.0.1 and 192.168.1.1. Once there, I needed to login to my system. If you're still using your AP's company provide default login and password, once you're in, take this opportunity to change it. Until you do, anyone who knows the device defaults can take over your AP.

    How to set the SSID on a Netgear Router.

    How to set the SSID on a Netgear Router.

    Once in my Netgear device, I needed to Wireless Settings. Then, to set it up so that any wandering Google Street View car won't collect its location, I changed its SSID from Gith-5 to Gith-5_nomap. Google hopes that since "this method of opt out can also be seen by other location service providers, and we hope the industry will respect the "_nomap" tag." Then, the next time a device with a "reliable channel" tries to use your AP's information to fix its location, Google will take note that you no longer want to be in their databases and remove your devices' data.

    And, what's a "reliable channel?" According to Google, it's a Wi-Fi device, like an Android phone that tries to use your AP to fix its location. So, for example, to get your home or office Wi-Fi off Google's location service in a hurry, just use Google Maps' My Location feature on a Wi-Fi enabled tablet or smartphone, and Google will note the change in your SSID and take your equipment off its maps.

    That sounds good, but besides putting the burden on you to opt out of their system, Google's solution introduces another minor security/privacy problem. You see some people don't want to broadcast that they're providing any Wi-Fi services at all, so they don't broadcast any SSID.

    Now, yes, finding an "invisible" SSID is trivial. Most Wi-Fi network utilities like inSSIDer, Kismet, and NetStumbler can do in seconds. But, many people still don't broadcast SSID so they can avoid would-be casual Wi-Fi users. With the Google "fix" though you have to use a SSID.

    Don't think, by the by, that you've escaped Google's Argus gaze if you haven't been using an SSID. It's the MAC, which all networked devices have, that Google uses to uniquely identify and locate your AP or router.

    Personally, I'm not going to bother to change my Wi-Fi APs' SSIDs. It's too much trouble for too little value. But, if you want to hide from Google, well, now you know how. Good luck.

    Related Stories:

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

    Google's mistake leads to a lot of collected Wi-Fi payload data via Street View

    Google admits Street View cars collected e-mails, passwords

    Google Street View cars nabbed locations of Wi-Fi devices

    Google can be sued for Street View Wi-Fi snooping

    Topics: Mobility, Google, Networking, Wi-Fi

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    Talkback

    26 comments
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    • RE: How to keep your Wi-Fi location out of Google

      To Hell with Google. This should be opt-in, not opt-out.

      There is no reason Google should be sniffing for SSIDs.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • RE: How to keep your Wi-Fi location out of Google

        @Cylon Centurion they should <b>all be opt-in</b>, rather than opt-outThe issue I am having is singling out one company, when there are multiple suspects.
        Rick_Kl
      • I have to laugh at SJVN

        @Cylon Centurion
        if this was MS he would be all over them, instead it's his favorite "FOSS" (I use that term lightly in reference to Google, as we know they're not) company he's quite ho-hum about it - [i]but it is what it is[/i]

        Really, and how is Google letting everyone know how to do this? Sure I wait for something in the mail?

        That's the beauty of this "Opt-Out" scheme - they make a fix, they just won't tell you about it.
        William Farrell
    • STUPID

      This is MY Access Point. NOT Googles. Why should they be allowed to tell me how to name my SSID just because THEY invaded MY privacy and snooped the information without my permission. They need to just delete the database PERIOD.
      techygeek82
      • RE: How to keep your Wi-Fi location out of Google

        @techygeek82

        Google didn't invade your privacy, unless they drove onto your property. You broadcast all the information into the airwaves for ANYONE to pick up.

        I applaud Google for making it possible to remove one's router from their database.
        bkshort@...
        • RE: How to keep your Wi-Fi location out of Google

          @bkshort@...

          If your argument holds up, everyone should be able to fight any piracy charges cause after all everyone has access if they want to work at it.
          d13850
      • RE: How to keep your Wi-Fi location out of Google

        @techygeek82<br>" <b><i>Why should they be allowed to tell me how to name my SSID... </b></i>" This is the point people. techygeek82 is RIGHT! I should not have to rename my SSID so I now have to reset all my computers and those I allow on my PRIVATE equipment. My SSID is not broadcast and I am locked down tight. However, they use their own Linux O.S. which has the tools to discover everything even though I am not broadcasting. We should have to OPT IN and not out. - And if we have to Opt Out, it should be a non-tracking Web-Form on Google's site that PERMANENTLY ! allows those of us who want to Opt Out a PERMANENT solution to Opt Out.
        The Rifleman
    • RE: How to keep your Wi-Fi location out of Google

      What about getting the information deleted from BING maps too. Seems that Google is not the only guilty party. Or is there some sort of agenda?
      Rick_Kl
      • RE: How to keep your Wi-Fi location out of Google

        @Rick_Kl Nice try but Bing uses the IP address range that your ISP issues, not your SSID or router MAC address.

        If Bing has your address it's because YOU gave it to them.
        dazzlingd
        • RE: How to keep your Wi-Fi location out of Google

          @dazzlingd that is where you are completely wrong!<br>[The company posted information on its privacy pages admitting that its mobile OS exhibits "unintended behavior" by sending location information, such as details of nearby Wi-Fi access points and cell towers, even when a user declines to share such data.]<br><br>Read more: <a href="http://www.electronista.com/articles/11/09/28/problems.spotted.on.windows.phone.7/#ixzz1dolKPcGr" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.electronista.com/articles/11/09/28/problems.spotted.on.windows.phone.7/#ixzz1dolKPcGr</a><br><br>Unless you know more than Microsoft???

          Also of note: Microsoft's managed driving data collection software, does indeed collect the SSid and MAC Addresses. The data is transmitted to Microsoft. So in short: everything the MS fanboys complain about Google doing, Microsoftis doing the very same thing, while lying about it.
          Rick_Kl
        • RE: How to keep your Wi-Fi location out of Google

          @Rick_Kl
          So based on my mobile device sending location information, how does Microsoft figure out where my WiFi network is, if my smartphone is not connected to it and never has been?
          dazzlingd
        • RE: How to keep your Wi-Fi location out of Google

          @dazzlingd you sound less than honest, when you deny facts. First, Microsoft has already indicated that they were using managed driving to add a street view. Second,
          Microsoft already has you AP???s information, if you use windows. as you give it to them. My whole point is why only singe out the other company, when there are multiple companies doing wrong? Windows mobile7 tracks your location, and sends the data back to Microsoft, yet that was never brought up. Apple got lambasted for keeping similar info on your phone, and the computer it synced with (both of which were in your possession. Which is worse? data in your possession, or data on a remote server?
          now Google is getting blasted, while Microsoft is doing the same thing but, once again, getting a pass. Do you see a pattern here?
          Rick_Kl
      • Jumped without thinking, didn't you?

        @Rick_Kl

        Microsoft isn't sending cars around mapping wifi hotspots and your house. Just Google.

        And what about Apple? Only a fool would believe they're not doing it themselves, so I would worry more about them then MS!
        William Farrell
        • RE: How to keep your Wi-Fi location out of Google

          @William Farrell you might want too look in a mirror, before calling anyone a fool. If Microsoft is not doing the same thing, there would not be a need for Microsoft's managed driving data collection software.
          Rick_Kl
    • RE: How to keep your Wi-Fi location out of Google

      Google know full well, no one is going to change their SSID and add some dumb name tag to the end of it. You should be able opt out in your Google account settings.

      If it's easy to find a hidden SSID with a tool like inSSIDer, what's the point hiding it? Casual users won't know how to get past the security key or encryption anyway. Those who do, will already be using something like inSSIDer.

      I don't know anyone who hides their SSID. All it results in is it being difficult for friends to connect. You've got to unhide, connect then re-hide again.

      There are benefits to Google Maps knowing were your router is. It allows Google Maps to more accurately place you.
      bradavon
      • RE: How to keep your Wi-Fi location out of Google

        @bradavon
        "You've got to unhide, connect then re-hide again." No you don't! I use Mageia Linux, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, and virtualize several other Operating Systems and have never had to broadcast my SSID to Associate with my Router even on first install. Even Windows 8 DEV Release was a cinch!!! You need to do some homework on this.
        The Rifleman
    • Say what?

      "Google quickly backed off grabbing people's personal data"

      I almost snorted my coffee when I read that. Google's entire business model is built around grabbing people's personal data, using any and all means at their disposal. They are not backing off, just evolving their tactics. They are the Borg of the tech world. "Resistance is Futile!"
      itpro_z
      • RE: How to keep your Wi-Fi location out of Google

        @itpro_z I think Bill Gatus of borg might disagree with you. Microsoft is actively grabbing more data on people than any company to date. Microsoft takes the worst parts of every other company, and combines them into their products DNA.
        Rick_Kl
    • Dear Google:

      What's this about doing no evil? Mapping SSIDs (or MACs) is evil. Period. Knock it off!
      Sincerely,
      Userama
      Userama
    • RE: How to keep your Wi-Fi location out of Google

      Don't transmit your SSID.
      You should not be doing so anyways, Google is not the one to be concerned with, it is the little kid down the street.
      Turn off SSID.
      MoeFugger