Google has announced a way for owners of wireless networks to opt out of being indexed by its location database by appending “_nomap” to their network’s name (SSID), according to a post on the Official Google Blog.
The Google Location Server maintains an index of known wireless networks across the world, each one associated with its location. Mobile phones and other devices can use this data to calculate the user’s approximate location if they do not have GPS onboard or can simply make do with imprecise location data—the upside being that it’s faster and more power-efficient.
Although the company has repeatedly stressed that it stores no personally identifiable information in this database, it came under fire in May last year when it admitted that its Street View vehicles had mistakenly collected “fragments of payload data” from unsecured wireless networks. The company faced severe criticism for this breach of privacy and was fined €150,000 ($200,000) in Belgium for the oversight.
To make amends, it promised last month to come up with a way for users to opt out of having their location indexed, and have now fulfilled it. After you’ve changed your Wi-Fi network’s name to add “_nomap” to it (for example, if your network’s name is “Jiminy”, you need to rename it to “Jiminy_nomap”), the company’s servers will make note of the change the next time they use your network for providing location services and delist it from the database.
The blog post also goes on to add that the company hopes that other companies providing similar services would start respecting the tag as well, thus giving users to the ability to prevent being indexed by all of these location databases in a single step. The company also provides a helpful article that explains Google’s location-based services in detail and helps you set up your network if you want to opt out.
The only thing is that the solution itself is rather weird. As more people find out about this method, you’ll soon start seeing the “_nomap” tag pop up on Wi-Fi network names everywhere, and that to us seems like a strange outcome. Not to mention all the people who simply won’t ever find out about this new policy and wouldn’t be able to opt out of being indexed.
People shouldn’t have to explicitly state in their network’s name that they do not want to be indexed, just like you don’t have to stick a sign on your windows to let people know that it is not OK to jump in unannounced. Perhaps it would have made more sense as an opt-in solution instead, where people who wanted their networks to be indexed could have appended “_map” to their SSIDs to give Google the green signal.