From tagging a post with your location, to checking in to a restaurant, to simply finding out where you are, location-based services have become some of the most popular features of today’s Internet. One of the key ways technology companies are able to determine a location for these services is through a location database, which matches publicly broadcast information about local wireless networks with their approximate geographic location. By looking for wireless access points that are close to a user’s phone, location providers can return the approximate location you need. In addition, this method is a good alternative to other approaches, like GPS, because it’s faster, it works indoors, and it’s more battery-efficient.
The wireless access point information we use in our location database, the Google Location Server, doesn’t identify people. But as first mentioned in September, we can do more to address privacy concerns.
We’re introducing a method that lets you opt out of having your wireless access point included in the Google Location Server. To opt out, visit your access point’s settings and change the wireless network name (or SSID) so that it ends with “_nomap.” For example, if your SSID is “Network,” you‘d need to change it to “Network_nomap.”
To get started, visit this Help Center article to learn more about the process and to find links with specific instructions on how to change an access point’s SSID for various wireless access point manufacturers.
As we explored different approaches for opting-out access points from the Google Location Server, we 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.
Finally, 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. This would help benefit all users by providing everyone with a unified opt-out process regardless of location provider.
(Cross posted on the European Public Policy Blog)