Google's WiFi Opt-Out Process Makes Users Navigate Technical Maze

News Analysis: If you can figure out how to change your router's name to implement Google's method for opting out of automatic WiFi data collection, your problems have only begun.

Bowing to demands by the European Union, Google has now published how it plans to let people opt out of having their location data collected by Google.

This location data is used for all sorts of things, but for people with Android phones, it shows up in Google Goggles, which has an augmented reality function. You can turn the phone sideways and use the Goggles app to scan the area around you, and names of businesses will appear superimposed on the picture on your screen.

But of course it shows up in many other ways as well. If you use Google Maps, you will see names of businesses and other organizations pointed out on the maps. You can use this location data for navigation. And, of course, you can see the results in Google's somewhat controversial Street View feature. Google uses the service set identifier (SSID) of nearby WiFi access points and routers to help it determine where you are, especially if you don't have GPS signals available.

Unfortunately, not everyone wants their location known, and the ability to protect that information is at thecore of Google's opt-out feature, as Clint Boulton explained in his story on the topic. The means of preventing Google from using your location data is to append "_nomap" to the end of your SSID.

The method seems simple, but it is fraught with problems. Not the least of these problems, as Clint mentions, is that a lot of people have no idea how to change the SSID on their router. How many people? Well, if you're in a populated area, look for access points on your laptop. Note how many SSIDs are named "linksys" or "belkin." Those are all people who bought their router at the store, plugged it in and started using it. These people likely don't know what an SSID is, much less how to change it.

But, just for the sake of argument, let's assume that these people somehow find out how to change their SSID. Even more unlikely, let's assume that they changed the SSID they found and didn't make other changes that didn't somehow render their router inoperative. So now, instead of having the SSID name of "linksys" it says "linksys_nomap." Or if they got really creative, maybe they changed the default setting so that it now says something like "freds_nomap." Then what?

The next thing that happens is that all of their WiFi devices stop working. If they changed their settings using a wireless connection, they're now locked out of their router because their computer is looking for the old SSID and it's not there anymore.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...