Google Should Request Opt-Ins, Not Force Complex Opt-Outs

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-11-15 Print this article Print


Fortunately, the change is fairly easy. They just have to search for a new SSID on their computer, assuming they know how to do this, and connect to the new one with the "_nomap" suffix.

But how many nontechnical users will realize this? I'm guessing that the people who make wireless access points and routers are going to get a LOT of support calls when their customers suddenly can't connect. I can only imagine what the folks at Cisco and Netgear will be thinking about Google after their first week of such calls.

But the problem doesn't end there. These days many of the wireless routers being sold are for 802.11n, which are also simultaneous dual band routers. This means they have two radios, one for 2.4GHz and one for 5GHz. On most routers these two radios have different SSIDs that are set in different places. How many users who already don't know how to manage their devices will realize this and also realize that they have to change both of them to say "_nomap" at the end to prevent automatic WiFi data collection?

Furthermore, how many people will remember that their new WiFi-enabled HDTV is using 5GHz and needs to be set up with the new name. Probably not many.  Even fewer will be able to navigate the sometimes arcane WiFi setup menus on consumer electronics.

So you're about to see a lot of people who will want the privacy of not being mapped by Google, but who also don't have the technical background to change every WiFi device they own so that it works. This already sounds like a massive fiasco in the making, especially for the makers of consumer electronics. But does it have to be this way?

Maybe not. If Google's photo cars depend on the broadcast SSID to identify a WiFi device, you can simply turn off the SSID broadcast. This will add security to your network, and once your devices are set up, they don't need the broadcast anyway. Admittedly, turning off the SSID broadcast isn't any easier than changing the SSID itself, but it does mean you don't have to change every device you own. That alone will save a lot of effort.

But in reality, shouldn't Google be doing an opt-in? You know, where Google can gather information only from people who agree in advance. Or is that too easy? 

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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