You'll soon able to opt-out of Google Wi-Fi snooping

You'll soon able to opt-out of Google Wi-Fi snooping

Summary: Google, which has been collecting your Wi-Fi Access Point information for years with its Google Street View cars and trikes, will soon allow you to opt-out of its data collection.

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You did know those cars and trikes Google uses to take photos for Google Street View were also collecting your Wi-Fi Access Point (AP) information and location too right? Well, they have been since 2009, and now, thanks to complaints from privacy advocates in Europe, you'll be able to opt out of this "service."

In a Google blog site, Peter Fleischer, Global Privacy Counsel, wrote, "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. 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. Once opted out, our services will not use that access point to determine users' locations."

Of course, as Paul Ducklin, the Head of Technology, Asia Pacific, for a Sophos, a security firm, notes, "This is a Catch-22. Google pretty much has to keep you on file, simply in order to know that you didn't want to be on file in the first place. Otherwise they'd just add you back in next time the Street View Wi-Fi scanner came round - and then you'd have to opt out again. Sadly, you can't opt out of the Street View collection process proactively."

Google says it collects this information so that its location services will work better. "Google Maps for Mobile, for example, helps people find themselves on a map and then locate places nearby," Of course, you probably already know where you're at. I'm in my office. No surprises here!

Seriously, this information is useful for any location-based service. Yes, you can use GPS, but Wi-Fi amd cellular phone tower-based geographical information helps nail your location when you ask for say directions to the nearest coffee shop.

Google Street View vehicles collect your Wi-Fi AP's unique MAC (Media Access Control) address, network name and location as it drives by. Since most access points stay in the same place, Google can use this data for its location-based applications.

That's good for location-applications, but although Google doesn't correlate your location with your AP and physical address, let's face it; it wouldn't require a lot of work to narrow down where you're likely to be found when you combine your AP data, the corresponding Street View photographs, and your ISP information.

So, if you're on America's Most Wanted-or you think you have a very tech-savvy stalker chasing you-you really don't want your AP's data to be collected by Google.

You can't stop it yet though. According to Fleischer, "We'll be making this opt-out available globally, and we'll release more detailed information about it when it's ready to launch later this autumn."

Related Stories:

Google Street View cars nabbed locations of Wi-Fi devices

Israel opens up to Google Street View

Police Complaints Stall Google Street View in India

Google Street View Trikes: Because your front door wasn't good enough

Google's Street View: Benefits outweigh some privacy concerns

Topics: Security, Google, Mobility, Networking, Wi-Fi

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69 comments
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  • Google never should have invaded people's privacy in the first place

    How many times must Google invade people's privacy? Google has proven, time and time again, that people are nothing more than products to be consumed and data to be mined.
    Your Non Advocate
    • RE: You'll soon able to opt-out of Google Wi-Fi snooping

      @facebook@...
      Given that MS seems to copy everything Google does (search, WP7 involuntary data collection, display ads with Yahoo & AOL); if Google has proven to be data miners so has MS.
      anono
      • RE: You'll soon able to opt-out of Google Wi-Fi snooping

        @anono Even if true, And?
        Your Non Advocate
      • RE: You'll soon able to opt-out of Google Wi-Fi snooping

        @anono
        Oh, so those two wrongs must make it right, then!

        Google lowered the bar for everyone else. In order to compete, they have to be just as sleazy.
        x I'm tc
      • RE: You'll soon able to opt-out of Google Wi-Fi snooping

        @anono How is this relevant? How is it relevant for data mining?
        pupkin_z
      • RE: You'll soon able to opt-out of Google Wi-Fi snooping

        @pupkin_z it's relevant because facebook@ will use any opportunity he can to take a swipe at Google while holding Microsoft up as nearly infallible. I wonder if he and a few other posters on the ZDnet forums are actually paid by MS.
        K B
    • RE: You'll soon able to opt-out of Google Wi-Fi snooping

      @facebook@...
      I can see your publically broadcasted SSID right now. It is not private. Google hasn't invaded anything.

      If you want your SSID to be private, set it to not broadcast! Simple as that.
      Droid101
      • RE: You'll soon able to opt-out of Google Wi-Fi snooping

        @Droid101

        I suppose it is asking too much for Google to behave.
        Your Non Advocate
      • RE: You'll soon able to opt-out of Google Wi-Fi snooping

        @Droid101
        Linux Wi-Fi scanners out-of-the-box can identify a hidden SSID and printout the MAC Address even with broadcast disabled! So don't think Google can't see you if your SSID Broadcast is off. The only secure way to thwart Google is to turn off your router when not in use. Mine is completely shutdown when I am not home. No power period! When Google came by, they got nothing because the power was off!
        The Rifleman
      • You're absolutely right Droid101, this is really a silly topic.

        @Droid101 ... I use 3 routers tied into my FIOS. One is a D-Link (G), one is a MIMO (G) and One is a Wireless Access Point, configured as a router (N). When they are running, I expect anyone to be able to see them within a couple of hundred feet. It's normal. I don't understand the significance of recording the information since every time you view the information, it changes. And if someone replaces equipment or disconnects the power the information is useless. If the information wasn't transmitted, you couldn't connect to the router yourself. Really, where's the privacy issues?, you may as well be talking about what color your house is too. I don't understand how they can effectively use the information, but anyone can take a picture of your house (legally) from the street. It's public domain.
        Joe.Smetona
      • RE: You'll soon able to opt-out of Google Wi-Fi snooping

        @Droid101 Thank you for being the voice of reason. This faux privacy stuff is getting out of hand. I've had other people tell me that a system that takes a picture of you in a public place and finds out who you are via your publicly posted photo and facebook profile is "unconstitutional". People need to look up and learn the concept of "reasonable expectation of privacy". Nothing done in or presented to the public has any expectation of being private.
        jgm@...
        • RE: You'll soon able to opt-out of Google Wi-Fi snooping

          @rifleman
          "The only secure way to thwart Google is to turn off your router when not in use. Mine is completely shutdown when I am not home."

          Why do you imagine Google cares about you? What if they came by when you were home. Google is not engaging in war-driving with Kismet to sniff out your hidden network. Why do you feel they need to be "thwarted"?
          jgm@...
        • RE: You'll soon able to opt-out of Google Wi-Fi snooping

          @Mr. Smetona
          "Really, where's the privacy issues?, you may as well be talking about what color your house is too... but anyone can take a picture of your house (legally) from the street. It's public domain. "

          That hasn't stopped people from freaking out about Google Street View and engaging in all sorts of legal complaints and suing of Google because their house is visible in Google Earth!

          What I understand can be done with this information is that it can be used to help locate an individual in the absence of GPS signal (or hardware). Of course it's not perfect, but by the SSIDs and signal strength it's possible to derive a ballpark figure for the user's location (along with cell phone tower information, etc.).
          jgm@...
      • RE: You'll soon able to opt-out of Google Wi-Fi snooping

        @Droid101 You have a point but you shouldn't have to opt out, you should have to opt in. I also believe I recall you bashing Apple for collecting info for better location services but Google gets a pass? From you, absolutely no surprise there.
        non-biased
    • calm down

      @facebook@...
      you can opt out and on top of it it's free!
      Does M$ give you anything for free?
      The Linux Geek
      • RE: You'll soon able to opt-out of Google Wi-Fi snooping

        @The Linux Geek But Google still mines the data, sheep.
        Your Non Advocate
      • RE: You'll soon able to opt-out of Google Wi-Fi snooping

        @The Linux Geek
        Does Google give you anything for free that MS <em>doesn't</em>?
        x I'm tc
      • RE: You'll soon able to opt-out of Google Wi-Fi snooping

        @jdakula
        Android and other free apps.
        The Linux Geek
      • RE: You'll soon able to opt-out of Google Wi-Fi snooping

        @The Linux Geek

        Does M$ give you anything for free?

        Pretty much everything Google does for free, so does Microsoft.
        Michael Alan Goff
      • RE: You'll soon able to opt-out of Google Wi-Fi snooping

        What does Google give out for free, that people want, that Microsoft doesn't?
        Michael Alan Goff