Google offers Wi-Fi database opt-out method

Google has delivered a way for people to opt out of having their wireless routers mapped by the company's Street View cars, as it was ordered to do by European data protection authorities.The company’s privacy chief, Peter Fleischer, wrote in a blog post on Tuesday that those wishing to opt out would have to rename their home wireless network, or SSID, so that it ends with the suffix '_nomap'.

Google has delivered a way for people to opt out of having their wireless routers mapped by the company's Street View cars, as it was ordered to do by European data protection authorities.

The company’s privacy chief, Peter Fleischer, wrote in a blog post on Tuesday that those wishing to opt out would have to rename their home wireless network, or SSID, so that it ends with the suffix '_nomap'. For example, someone using the SSID 'bobandjane' would have to change it to 'bobandjane_nomap'.

"As we explored different approaches for opting-out access points from the Google Location Server [database], we found that a method based on wireless network names provides the right balance of simplicity as well as protection against abuse," Fleischer wrote. "Specifically, this approach helps protect against others opting out your access point without your permission."

Google whipped up a storm of regulatory censure last year when it turned out that its Street View cars were not only photographing neighbourhoods but also collecting the details of people's Wi-Fi routers, in order to improve Google's location-based service products.

Matters were worsened by the revelation that the cars were also recording data being transmitted over those networks, but even without that apparent accident, regulators were not keen on people's routers being logged without their permission.

Google admitted in September that the Irish and Dutch data protection authorities had told it to build the opt-out service. More generally, companies such as Google and Facebook are under close scrutiny from the European Commission, regarding their adherence to European privacy laws.

It turned out this year that Apple and Microsoft also map hotspots, again for the benefit of their location-based services.

Fleischer said in his post that Google's approach to letting people opt out could easily be adopted by other firms. "Because other location providers will also be able to observe these opt-outs, we hope that over time the '_nomap' string will be adopted universally," he wrote, adding: "This would help benefit all users by providing everyone with a unified opt-out process regardless of location provider."