On Monday, Google said that wireless access point and router owners can now option out of having their wireless network included in the Google Location Server. All they need to do is change the wireless network name (or SSID) so that it ends with "_nomap." That means if you're one of the millions who use "linksys" as a network name, it will now need to read "linksys_nomap" to avoid Google's Wi-Fi network mapping.
"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," said Peter Fleischer, Global Privacy Counsel for Google. "Specifically, this approach helps protect against others opting out your access point without your permission."
The solution might not be reasonable for everyone. Google is asking Wi-Fi network administrators, whether they're public networks or located in the home, to manually change their network's SSID name. The task of actually renaming the SSID isn't a big deal for experienced users, and re-connecting Wi-Fi devices to the re-named network may take a few annoying minutes. But what about those who simply hook up their router and move on to other things? Or those who really have no knowledge of setting the proper security or changing the SSID? Some users don't even broadcast an SSID on purpose.
Thus, the idea of asking everyone to change their network's ID on behalf of Google is simply preposterous, outlandish. "99-percent of the people who will want to do this will have absolutely no idea what [changing the SSID] means," rants MG Siegler. "I mean, [Google's] entire post is a joke, right? Please tell me this is a joke."
Yet it's no joke, and Google is hoping that the "_nomap" tag will be adopted by all location providers, not just Google. "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," Fleischer said. "This would help benefit all users by providing everyone with a unified opt-out process regardless of location provider."
Google came under fire when it was recently discovered that Google's Street View cars were not only taking photos of neighborhoods, but "mistakenly" collecting street addresses, Wi-Fi router SSIDs, MAC addresses, unencrypted passwords and even email addresses. Google quickly halted the collection of personal data, but continued to pick up the unique MACs, SSIDs and physical addresses of Wi-Fi access points and routers.
But now owners of access points and Wi-Fi routers can remove their devices from Google's Location Server using the "_nomap" SSID tag. Once that's changed, the next time a Wi-Fi enabled device like an Android smartphone or tablet tries to use the network to fix its location, Google's Location Server will take note of the SSID and remove its information... so Google claims.
Changing the SSID is rather simple: just hook up to the network via an Ethernet connection and log onto the router or access point (typically 192.168.1.1 or something similar) via a browser. The wireless network name (SSID) is typically changed under the Wireless section. Just add "_nomap" and hit apply, and the device will reboot using the new name. Now you just need to reconnect your wireless devices to the "New" Wi-Fi network (and delete the old one to avoid confusion).