Google WiFi Opt-Out Method Met With Skepticism

Google offers a way for users to opt out of having their WiFi routers included in its Location Server, but some believe the method is too complicated for most consumers.

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Nov. 15 made good on its promise to offer a way for users to opt out of having their wireless access point, or WiFi router, included in its location database software.

Google's Location Server collects information for location-based services, such as allowing users to tag posts or check into locations through Google Maps for Mobile on Android smartphones. The server links publicly broadcast information about local wireless networks with their approximate geographic location.

Though Google claims it doesn't identify people with the WiFi access point info it collects in its location database, it needs to meet the new terms of the European Commission. The Commission last May ordered that the unauthorized use of data from WiFi-enabled devices violated European law that prohibits the commercial use of private data without an owner's consent.

Accordingly, the company said in September it would offer a way for users to opt out of Google's location services. The method is now available.

Users may navigate to their router's settings and change the wireless network name, known as the service set identifier (SSID) in geek speak, so that it ends in "_nomap." So if a user's WiFi network name is Foxtrot, the name would be revised to "Foxtrot_nomap."-for example.

Google provided additional instructions, including links with specific details on how to change a router's SSID, in its help center. The Web page includes links to instructions for making changes in wireless gateways from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Belkin, Linksys, U.S. Robotics and Netgear.

Why use this method in particular?

Google's Global Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer explained in a blog post: "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. Specifically, this approach helps protect against others opting out your access point without your permission."

In other words, it's designed to prevent fraudulent opt-outs. Fleischer said other location service providers use the same nomap string, adding that it hopes the code will be globally adopted for consistency's sake.

While apparently well-intentioned, particularly after Google erred grievously with its Street View WiSpy incident in which it collected over 600 gigabytes of user data from WiFi networks, some members of the high-tech sector pounced on Google for offering a way they believe is too complicated for the average home Internet user to figure out.

MG Siegler, long-time TechCrunch blogger turned venture capitalist for the CrunchFund, wrote on his personal blog: "99% of the people who will want to do this will have absolutely no idea what any of the above paragraph means. I mean, this entire post is a joke, right? Please tell me this is a joke."

John Grubb, owner of Keystone Computer Repair in Florida, told eWEEK via Google+: "I can tell you that the majority of our customers would have difficulty in completing this task. I can't tell you how many times I've had to bail out (usually, new) customers who went into their routers and fouled up everything."

Computerworld, attempting to make lemonade out of Google's apparent lemon, provided very detailed instructions for consumers to help them make the opt-out change.