Google says users can opt out of location mapping

Posted by Emma Woollacott

With European regulators still grumbling over Google's privacy practices, the company is now to allow owners of residential Wifi routers to opt out of its controversial location-mapping system.

Up to now, Google's been using publicly broadcast Wifi data from wireless access points to improve its location-based services.

By using signals from access points rather than GPS, says Google, smart phones are able to fix their general location quickly without using too much power.

The change appears to have been prompted by statements from European legislators that Google's practice of registering devices in a central location violates European law.

However, the opt-out is to be made available internationally.

"Even though the wireless access point signals we use in our location services don’t identify people, we think we can go further in protecting people’s privacy," says Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy counsel.

"At the request of several European data protection authorities, we are building an opt-out service that will allow an access point owner to opt out from Google's location services. Once opted out, our services will not use that access point to determine users’ locations."

Google's activities have consistently got it into hot water in Europe, most notable when the company admitted last year that its Street View cars had inadvertently been collecting payload data from users' networks.

At the same time as making the Wifi announcement, the company's said it won't appeal against an order from the Dutch data protection authority. It's been told to destroy more than 3.6 million Wifi service set identifiers that were collected in violation of Dutch privacy laws.