Google offers opt-out for WiFi mapping, the joke is on users

It's always been known that Google collects public WiFi data to provide "faster mapping services" to mobile devices, and the service was never exactly "opt-in." The company uses their Street View cars to harvest the data, as well as mobile devices. It puts that data into their public location database. Now, the company has announced a way to opt out of the service, but it seems like they're almost mocking users.

Back in September, the company announced that the service would be opt-out and that the company would not use your WiFi data when you choose this option. In a post on the Google Blog today, the company announced that option. It's adding a string to your SSID, specifically "_nomap.” ​If your wireless access point name is "Rainbows and Ponies" it'll now have to be "Rainbows and Ponies_nomap." if you want Google to stop using your public data.

It almost seems like Google is joking about this, but they're dead serious. For some reason, the company seems to think that the 99% of people who care about this actually will know how to change their SSID, however we question if those people even know they need a wireless router to access the internet. Most people just connect to the telco provided device with the default key and stop caring.

Google offers router specific information for changing the SSID here. The company says they only use publicly broadcast information, including the SSID of the device and the MAC address of the router. Apparently the SSID name-change option was chosen by Google as it stops others opting your access point out of the service without your permission. Are we the only ones that think this is a joke?

Luckily, you won't have to wait for the Street View car to roll by your place again for it to update though. Next time a mobile device sends information about your WiFi access point and sees the "nomap" string, they'll drop it from their location database. ​Hooray.

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Firstly I think they should handle it differently because this seems like kind of a hassle.

Secondly why do I even read the news on Neowin anymore? Almost every day there is a post about how Google/Android/whatever is inferior/bad/evil and Apple's products are incredible, reinventing the wheel and killing off the more established alternatives by being so superior and pure.

Amarok said,
Firstly I think they should handle it differently because this seems like kind of a hassle.

Secondly why do I even read the news on Neowin anymore? Almost every day there is a post about how Google/Android/whatever is inferior/bad/evil and Apple's products are incredible, reinventing the wheel and killing off the more established alternatives by being so superior and pure.

That's because apple products were touched by god, and google/microsoft were touched by Satan... come on.

Amarok said,
Almost every day there is a post about how Google/Android/whatever is inferior/bad/evil and Apple's products are incredible, reinventing the wheel and killing off the more established alternatives by being so superior and pure.

You must not read the Apple news around here very much, because the majority of it is bashing Apple, not praising them.

jd100 said,
People shouldn't have to change their SSID to some stupid name just for this. That is ridiculous.

No. People worrying about anything being stolen from having an SSID are being ridiculous. I'd be more worried about your phone number in the phonebook, or from your email address/name getting on a spam list somewhere than google having your SSID. jeesuz

Yeah... because when I war drive around my neighborhood, I can totally tell who the 30 "NETGEAR" "2WIREXXX" and "DLINK" routers belong to. people need to stop being stupid.

SirEvan said,
Yeah... because when I war drive around my neighborhood, I can totally tell who the 30 "NETGEAR" "2WIREXXX" and "DLINK" routers belong to. people need to stop being stupid.

That is interesting because there are several of those "2WIRE" names around where I live also. It must be the cable company or something naming it that.

jd100 said,

That is interesting because there are several of those "2WIRE" names around where I live also. It must be the cable company or something naming it that.

2Wire is the brand name of certain routers, and therefore it is the default SSID for those.

I think that privacy is a big deal, however in this situation I don't see what the privacy concern here is exactly. I have much larger privacy concerns just browsing the web and having a few ads with tracking cookies load up.

The people who are really concerned about privacy when it comes to WiFi SSIDs are the same folks that wear tin-foil hats to ward off radiation. And those folks probably won't have WiFi setup anyway because they don't want cancer.

Shadrack said,

The people who are really concerned about privacy when it comes to WiFi SSIDs are the same folks that wear tin-foil hats to ward off radiation.

I agree with this 100%. These people are ****ing morons. You are broadcasting your SSID. Once it leaves your router, you have NO EXPECTATION OF PRIVACY.

tanjiajun_34 said,
Just asking what are the risk of letting people know your SSID?

By itself, nothing as such.

However, from a security tied to privacy aspect, it's a bigger kettle of fish.

Consider if you will, the perspective of how data should be used / can be abused from the 2 aspects of:

Privacy.
Data sovereignty.

The usage of the lack of the above / eroding of the above to create a profile from which your security can be attacked / probed.

As ever, if you are not in control of your own data, someone else is.

Packet1009 said,

By itself, nothing as such.

However, from a security tied to privacy aspect, it's a bigger kettle of fish.

Consider if you will, the perspective of how data should be used / can be abused from the 2 aspects of:

Privacy.
Data sovereignty.

The usage of the lack of the above / eroding of the above to create a profile from which your security can be attacked / probed.

As ever, if you are not in control of your own data, someone else is.


Take off the tin foil hat, you don't need it. You seem to have no idea what you are talking about. They are taking information which is being PUBLICLY broadcast, linking it to a GPS location, and then using that to provide a useful service. They are NOT making any of your information available in any way shape or form.

Your phone tells Google that wifi locations A, B, and C are near me, Google checks their database, and then tells your phone, you are likely HERE.

Even if someone got their hands on the database, they would be able to see that at some point in time this list of wifi locations were in these locations.

This is clearly disgusting on the part of google.
The sovereignity of my data is at stake yet again.
I am not going to change my SSID to accomodate their idea of an 'opt-out'

Who collected the data (MY data) ? They did.

Bloody fools

Packet1009 said,
This is clearly disgusting on the part of google.
The sovereignity of my data is at stake yet again.
I am not going to change my SSID to accomodate their idea of an 'opt-out'

Who collected the data (MY data) ? They did.

Bloody fools

LOL. yeah man, just wait till someone opens a credit card using your SSID...then you'll REALLY have something to hit google on.

ITS AN SSID. nobody knows Packet1009 = 2WIRE214!!!... you really think someones gonna go around and say "oh man...mywireless....they must have tons of cash! " or "NETGEAR....lets steal his packets"

anyone using WEP or WPA has nothing to worry about, and google collecting SSID's is no different than someone with netstumbler or something driving around. Hell..When I scan my wireless network card, I pick up my neighbors SSId's as well..OH NOEZZ!!!!!!

You're fault for not turning your SSID broadcast off.

SirEvan said,

LOL. yeah man, just wait till someone opens a credit card using your SSID...then you'll REALLY have something to hit google on.

ITS AN SSID. nobody knows Packet1009 = 2WIRE214!!!... you really think someones gonna go around and say "oh man...mywireless....they must have tons of cash! " or "NETGEAR....lets steal his packets"

anyone using WEP or WPA has nothing to worry about, and google collecting SSID's is no different than someone with netstumbler or something driving around. Hell..When I scan my wireless network card, I pick up my neighbors SSId's as well..OH NOEZZ!!!!!!

You're fault for not turning your SSID broadcast off.


Furthermore, they aren't even collecting something as useless as your SSID, they would be using the MAC address of the router, which is even more useless to someone who got their hands on the information. Just using the SSID would be insane as each time you were near "linksys" your GPS location would be EVERYWHERE!

This is especially convenient for me because my SSID's were already "_nomap" on every device! Just one of the many reasons I love Google - it's like they read my mind and deliver products, services, and features tailored to me.

daddy_spank said,
What about people like me with wifi router from TWC that cannot change the SSID????!! Come on google. This is really lousy.
Why is it lousy that they are using public information to provide a useful service? Why do you take issue with the MAC address of your router being linked to a gps location? even if someone managed to get their hands on the raw database, they could do nothing with that information that they couldn't do by simply standing outside your house in the first place.

este said,
Why the heck would I change my settings just to accomodate for them? no thanks.

Actually by not changing your settings, you are accommodating them. Obviously they prefer more people to opt-in. By changing your setting, you have to accommodate to how they want it.

I don't really get what the problem is. Wifi SSID's are public and can be seen by anyone (assuming your broadcasting it). It like putting up a big sign in your garden.

Sticking with the analogy, google just decided to use the big sign to help people find out where they are. I don't see anything wrong with doing this?

It (as far as I've understood it) is mainly due to a bunch of ****ing morons (and moronic EU governments) who think that their SSID is somehow private information. Just like the idiots who want to bitch at Google and others for Street View (and other similar services), when it is perfectly legal for anyone ANYWHERE to take a picture of ANY ****ING THING that is in public view so long as they aren't trespassing in order to do it.

Do you not use Google Maps on your smartphone? Wi-Fi location detection connects far faster than GPS in cities.

Why opt-out of something very clever and useful?

rob.derosa said,
how about making it opt in by adding a _map to the end of the SSID.

Because then you have to ask everybody in the world running a WiFi router to add "_map" to the end of their SSIDs, vs. asking the people who have an issue with it to rename their APs.

Isn't it possible to obtain the SSID, even when broadcasting it is switched off????

And if that is the case, was Google gathering info on SSIDs that were not being broadcast or just on the ones that were???

Tiuri said,
Isn't it possible to obtain the SSID, even when broadcasting it is switched off????
...

Yes, even if the AP is set to not broadcast, it still has to actually broadcast the SSID and such so devices can actually connect to the network, the most it does is tell end devices to just not show the AP in a list, "Raw" tools will still display all the info about it.

I guess Google are simply circumventing any attempt in a court of law to prove they mine information they are not allowed to in various countries around the world.

If your a technologist like most neowin readers, then your going to be passionate about THE BRAND.. and not the fact that if you dont want to participate then don't broadcast you SSID and dont use your location services. Simple..

At least there's now an option that wasn't there yesterday. How else would they do it, really? Like they said, if it could be done online, someone would end up disabling every wi-fi network out there for mapping.

This is for the tinfoil-hat people, anyway. The kind of people who, if they're really concerned about this, will put the effort into figuring it out.

I'm pretty sure that's right. The thing is some devices don't play nice with hidden SSIDs. My Wii didn't at a time, but I haven't played it in a long, long time.

The Teej said,
Surely those that don't even broadcast their SSID are exempt from this in the first place?

100% WRONG! Are you connected to it and using Android? If so Google collected it.

I seriously don't get why people are getting bent out of shape due to Google harvesting publicly available information. Just stopping Google won't make the information any less available.

Kushan said,
I seriously don't get why people are getting bent out of shape due to Google harvesting publicly available information. Just stopping Google won't make the information any less available.

This.

Looking forward to seeing "wifi_nomap_nohackpls" as well.

Well this doesn't affect people who have already secured their WLAN. Those that haven't probably won't even know how to change their SSID anyway lol.

Neobond said,
Well this doesn't affect people who have already secured their WLAN. Those that haven't probably won't even know how to change their SSID anyway lol.

They still map you even if tis secured

Owen W said,

They still map you even if tis secured

The point being is that if it's secured there's a very unlikely chance of you being hacked.

The Teej said,

The point being is that if it's secured there's a very unlikely chance of you being hacked.

A WEP "secured" router can be cracked in less than a minute...

s1k3sT said,
A WEP "secured" router can be cracked in less than a minute...
Which would be why WPA2 is now the general standard.

Kirkburn said,
Which would be why WPA2 is now the general standard.

Sadly, not everything supports it - yes, Nintendo, I'm looking at you - which means many people don't use WPA2.

Aethec said,
Sadly, not everything supports it - yes, Nintendo, I'm looking at you - which means many people don't use WPA2.
What by Nintendo doesn't support it? (As far as I can tell, the Wii does)

Whats with the unnecessary google hate?
Let's make wifi mapping opt-in, lets force google and others to stop using the already collected data, so that we can see the uproar of people complaining about the GPS on their phones taken ages to lock on a location.

This is what allows wifi ipads, ipod touch, and other wifi only devices to provide location information in an acceptable range. I fail to see where the harm is. after all, you ARE broadcasting your SSID to everybody in the neighborhood.

Julius Caro said,
Whats with the unnecessary google hate?
Let's make wifi mapping opt-in, lets force google and others to stop using the already collected data, so that we can see the uproar of people complaining about the GPS on their phones taken ages to lock on a location.

This is what allows wifi ipads, ipod touch, and other wifi only devices to provide location information in an acceptable range. I fail to see where the harm is. after all, you ARE broadcasting your SSID to everybody in the neighborhood.


There are better alternatives:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assisted_GPS

Owen W said,

There are better alternatives:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assisted_GPS

Yes. Alternatives that the devices I mentioned do not have, since they require both an a-GPS chip AND a cellular network.

Also, there are A LOT more wifi APs confined in smaller areas than there are cellular base stations, to the point where wifi location can provide more accurate information and result in a quicker lock. And you dont need to overthink this one. Grab an android phone, fully disable the wifi, and notice that it takes longer to lock on the location.

Owen W said,

There are better alternatives:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assisted_GPS

Assisted GPS still does triangulation by GPS.

WiFi triangulation is important for metro (between building, inside building, underground) areas where there's a dense overlap of BSSID signals so you have a very fast method of pinpointing a location to nearest 100meters (where the GPS signal might be weak or non-existent).