Home Google Offers Doublespeak With Wi-Fi Location Data “Opt Out” Program [updated]

Google Offers Doublespeak With Wi-Fi Location Data “Opt Out” Program [updated]

At 11:00 p.m. Pacific on a Monday night, 7:55 a.m. Tuesday morning in Europe, Google posted a gem on its official blogs. “Greater choice for wireless access point owners,” the post is called. It’s a follow-up on a promise made in September to offer people with Wi-Fi networks a way to opt out of sharing their location data with Google.

If you want to opt out, Google says, you have to figure out how to add “_nomap.” to the end of your SSID name. Can’t figure out how to do that? Oh well (here’s how). Google, and I quote, “found that a method based on wireless network names provides the right balance of simplicity as well as protection against abuse. Specifically, this approach helps protect against others opting out your access point without your permission.” You hear that? Google wants to protect you from someone turning off your location sharing without your permission. It’s for your protection, citizens.

While trying to collect this Wi-Fi location data, Google inadvertently caused uproars around the world by sniffing sensitive user data by mistake. Google initially refused to comply with investigators in Germany. Eventually Google discontinued collection of Wi-Fi data by Street View vehicles, and Google co-founder Sergey Brin admitted that Google “screwed up.”

After backing off of data collection by Street View vehicles, Google claimed in September that it would go further. It would build a program to let Wi-Fi providers opt out of sharing location data altogether. Even though, as the blog post took great pains to explain, these data are really, super-helpful for improving location services on phones, Google could see the lawyers’ points about privacy. So Google would build an “opt-out service” and make it “available globally.”

So what’s Google’s big privacy initiative? You have to change your own wireless network name, if you can figure out how. (How many “Belkin” and “Linksys” networks can you see in your Wi-Fi menu right now?) It’s a solution that is publicly visible, one which Google wants others to “be able to observe.” Change the name of your wireless network, so everyone can see it says “_nomap.” Google could at least have been more creative and tried to brand it “Google+ _Nomap.” or something.

For instructions on how to rename your Wi-Fi SSID, visit Google’s Help Center.

Update: The third paragraph was updated to more clearly reflect the fact that Google’s legal troubles in Europe were due to inadvertent collection of actual, personal user data while gathering the publicly available location data. A link has also been added to the Help Center article with instructions for how to rename a Wi-Fi SSID.

Update Again: With a period. “_nomap.” Didn’t notice that at first? Yeah, neither did I.

Is this enough of a privacy effort from Google, or is it Googleplus ungood? Share your reactions in the comments.

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