Google lets users opt out of geolocation database

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Google's announced an opt-out for Wifi users, allowing them to remove their home networks from the company's geolocation database.

What users need to do is add '_nomap' to the name of their Wifi network, so that 'emma', for example, becomes 'emma_nomap', and the change is implemented almost immediately.

"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," says Google's global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer.

"Specifically, this approach helps protect against others opting out your access point without your permission."

Fleiscer says the company hopes that other location providers will start using the suffix in the same way.

The move follows a ruling from the Dutch data protection authority that Google should offer users an opt-out, pointing out that many wouldn't want their address to be recorded. Google promised to comply in September.

However, it's keen to point out that there are are advantages to retaining the geolocation database: GPS isn't always available, and locations derived from cell towers aren't all that accurate. Using signals from access points, it says, is more precise.

"These signals can make products much more useful - by enabling public transport authorities to show you when a bus is expected to arrive at your nearest bus stop, for example," says Fleischer.

"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," he adds.

There's more information, here.