There is good reason Google collects our geographic location data through wireless access points, specifically to deliver location services to devices such as our smartphones faster than technologies like GPS. However, in September Google made it clear that they will “go further in protecting people’s privacy” related to collecting user location data to facilitate location services. Today, they are putting their first new initiative in place to address concerns by allowing a new method to opt out of having your location data stored in the Google Location Server.
“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.”
A couple things to note:
1. The opt-out will become active the next time your device sends information to the Google Location Server with the _nomap tag, which will remove the access point from the server. The quickest way to do this- “open Google Maps on an Android Device with WiFi enabled, and use the My Location feature”
2. Google is hoping all location service providers, who will start notice the SSID opt-out method, will adopt the “_nomap” tag as a industry standard and “unified opt-out process”.
Google has also posted a support guide walking you through location-based services and the new opt-out feature. You can find detailed instructions under “How do I opt out?”, which essentially just walks you through changing your access point’s SSID.
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This is following judiciary hearings in May where US senators Al Franken, Richard Blumenthal, and others questioned both Google, along with Apple and Facebook, about their practices for collecting user location data. A new bill was even proposed, known as the “Location Privacy Protection Act of 2011″, which would specifically force companies “to receive express consent” before personal location data is collected or shared with third parties. Today is Google’s first step towards addressing privacy concerns related to their location database.