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Google Wants To Track Your Physical Location


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."

Great. Just great. Google will now be tracking my wireless access point unless I append "_nomap" to the SSID. How many people do you think are going to do this? How many people have even changed their default AP login from "admin:admin"? Google is taking advantage of people, and they know it. I hope the backlash is severe, because I find this to be a breach of trust. Whatever happened to "Do No Evil"?

{ 22 } Comments

  1. Mario | November 15, 2011 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    You didn't pay attention. Google has always included in their location server any wifi APs they can find. So this development is actually an improvement, as indicated by "we're introducing a method that lets you opt out". IMO it's now up to wifi router providers to make this an easy to find option. (Of course whether you found the previous state of not being able to opt out at all an acceptable state of things is up to you)

  2. Aaron Toponce | November 15, 2011 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Point is, it should be opt-in, not opt-out.

  3. | November 15, 2011 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    YES! I agree. It should be "opt-in". I am closing out my entire Google account as I write this. Its a process that I start last Friday and its a lot of work. Ive been a privacy advocate ever since I read "Spychips" by Dr. Katherine Albrecht and also listen to her radio show/podcast. There are alternatives to gmail, google maps, and all the other google products out there. If you unhook soon, you could be doing yourself a huge favor years from now.

    Its already reported that insurance companies are querying Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc for photos and information. Companies are even willing to purchase the info from various websites if it can build a case against you. For example... do you deserve a liver transplant if you consume slightly more alcohol than the national standard? They can find photos of you drinking online, query your grocery club card account to monitor your alcohol purchases, etc. This brave new world we live in is getting out of hand and monitoring your privacy is the best way to combat that. Getting rid of Google is my first step.

  4. | November 15, 2011 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    Its funny how it shows I was using Google Chrome. I actually switched to Firefox a month ago and love it. I dont have massive hanging and freezing problems like I did with Chrome & Chromium. I had to go into Chrome to view my RSS feeds since Firefox 8 was not showing Google Reader correctly. FF7 isnt showing GReader correctly either so it must be a cookie problem? Not sure yet. But there is another instance of how far Google is entrenched into my daily life. web browser, RSS reader, maps, etc. Switching to Liferea is on the to-do list as well.

  5. Mario | November 15, 2011 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Aaron, that may well be the case ("it should be opt-in"), but 'Google will now be tracking my wireless access point unless I append “_nomap” to the SSID' was misinformation nevertheless, they have been doing this for years, not 'now'.

    And I'm not arguing Google's case here, but be aware that access location via AP lists would simply not work if it was opt-in: nobody would do it. That may be a good thing, but worth consideration.

  6. Mario | November 15, 2011 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Also the title of your post sucks. "Google wants to track your physical location"? No, not with this. Unless you name your SSID "Aaron Toponce" and carry your AP around with you ... and are then surprised that when you broadcast your SSID other people can receive your transmissions, and you never have any control about what they do with that information.

  7. person287 | November 15, 2011 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Could somebody please explain to me (convincingly, not just "They're out to get me")why Google having your WiFi's SSID (Just SSID, not Data) and it's Location is a Privacy issue. To me it just seems like people kicking up a big fuss over nothing, and I really haven't heard any convincing arguments. It's an SSID, not your life (got any idea how much your ISP logs in comparison?).

  8. Mario | November 15, 2011 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    person287, while I find a lot of what Google does problematic, I don't see the problem with this, either (like you probably guessed from my posts). Slashdot has a story up, I'm sure people are trying, but I haven't seen a good argument either, try

  9. Rubin110 | November 15, 2011 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Note: I'm all for privacy, when it makes sense. I'm also writing all this on an empty stomach.

    Let's say you're this person with a megaphone and a soap box. Every morning you'd come out of your house, go to the edge of your front lawn next to the sidewalk and stand on your soapbox. With your loudest voice you would yell out through the megaphone "THE END IS NEAR!" over and over again, until night falls and you've mostly lost your voice. You repeat this day after day.

    The town you live in is small, you have neighbors who hear you every day. They tell their friends, and their friends of friends. Eventually everyone in the town knows about you. You, your soapbox, yelling through a megaphone is common knowledge.

    After months of your yelling regiment, a out of town traveler passes through looking to visit a friend of theirs who happens to live in your neighborhood. This person stops at a convenience store and asks for directions. The clerk draws this person a map, along with a stick figure that looks similar to someone holding a megaphone on top of a soap box, and tells the traveler to make a right turn at the loud obnoxious guy.

    How does privacy work here? You could complain to the clerk to not use your performance as a land mark, but the clerk responds pointing out that you're doing it in public and you argue for a while about how it's still within the confines of your property, clerk again responds with the rest of the town knows about it. You go to a town meeting and demand that no one even acknowledge that you exist while on your megaphone banter. The towns folk respond with a request that if you must do it in public you have to append your announcement with a disclaimer.

    802.11 can be really loud by nature, it's everywhere here in San Francisco. I can stand in the middle of my street and see/hear about three dozen different ESSIDs, just as I could also hear my goth/metal down stairs neighbors having a party, or the kid across the street practicing his trombone, or the couple one over having a fight. Private sounds waves carry over into public a space aren't really all that private anymore, especially if it's going on 24/7, like the whirl of a fan part of a hydroponic system not really all that well insulated.

    I help run a hacker space here called Noisebridge, it's a non-profit public space/community for people to come and use tools and create interesting things, also to hang out. The space is rather large and we offer free internet (when it mostly works). Several of us, including me, have a very strong stance against implementing anything in the space that would log or track individuals coming in/out. Short logs or no logs on our servers, no neat tool to notify our IRC channel that certain MAC addresses are in the space (though that has been a fun opt-in idea), and no security/web cams (as much as things get stolen all the time). Whenever I bring a friend into the space I warn them that even though we have such a strong stance on privacy and no tracking or surveillance, it's still very much a public space and the wifi/network are very much open to all to sit on and do/sniff whatever they want, if privacy is what they're looking for they should leave and go to some place private, or wear a mask and make sure they tunnel all their traffic through Tor (quick plug for ) while using our network.

    By owning a cell phone you've opted into telcos and government agencies tracking where you go and when, no way to opt out other than to not have a cell phone. Might as well give permission for a 3rd party to do something interesting with that data (Google Latitude for instance). By running a radio transmitter in your home, you're effectively opting into others hearing you (man times miles away). I feel that a larger group might as well do something interesting with knowing that information as well. I do think it's silly that Google says you can opt out by having a disclaimer on the end of your ESSID, but it isn't as silly as requiring everyone to ignore radio waves permuting past your homes walls and property line into public space to remain private unless otherwise stated so.

    If you don't want people to know where your access point lives, I would suggest painting your walls with lead paint, much in the same how I would also recommend to folks who want to be private, please don't have sex on the balcony once an hour on the hour, or please don't be that guy with a megaphone demanding that no one notice him or her.

  10. Jason | November 15, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    "Google Wants to Track Your Physical Location"

    Are you a home owner, Aaron? Do you constantly get junk mail about refinancing your home loan?



    Seriously, what in the world are you even going on about? Your router doesn't even move and I guarantee you it's already listed in at least 10 location databases, if not 10 times that number.

    Honestly. Freak out about the fact that nefarious individuals will track, and sell, information about *_nomap locations explicitly. But this Google decision? What a joke.

    Google's "Do No Evil" died years ago. P.S. Are you an Android user?

  11. Mario | November 15, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    And funnily, 'whois'

  12. Aaron Toponce | November 15, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    I don't have time to respond to all of the replies. I've been exceptionally busy at work, but I'll address a few of the issues.

    First, this isn't a breach of privacy, but a breach of trust. Big difference. Second, it seems everyone is getting very relaxed on what data Google has about you. I suppose it will be okay if Google knows your financial institution's account number and SSN, yes? Lastly, Google has been tracking this data for some time, not just starting. I was never aware of this. What else about me are they tracking? My daily commute to work? What I have for breakfast each morning? I don't know, because they don't say.

    Breach of trust.

  13. Mario | November 15, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    1. If you had trust into a corporation, that's your own fault.
    2. You still don't understand that this particular topic is about Google only knowing that there is some wifi AP with an arbitrary name in your neighborhood. How does this in any way give them information about you? (assuming that you don't broadcast your name and SSN in your SSID, but if you do there is nothing to complain about anyway). There are things to be afraid of in what Google does, but this is not one of them.
    3. Do you have your mobile phone turned on on your commute to work? Congrats, you are being tracked. This is not news.
    4. They do say, you just didn't care about it and didn't read it. just by quick googling. This was in the news years ago, e.g.,
    Any Android phone makes this clear as well as there is an option for whether to use wifi database for location information in addition to GPS.
    5. There are many other entities who track wireless APs. YOU ARE BROADCASTING YOUR SSID INTO PUBLIC SPACE, WHAT DID YOU EXPECT? Read the analogy in comment #9 if you don't get it. Examples:
    6. Why was this on Ubuntu Planet, wasting my time? I thought people with rights to post to Ubuntu Planet have a clue about computers. This is a breach of my trust in Ubuntu 😉

  14. Mario | November 15, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    One more thing, re "do no evil". You do know what their business model is, yes? It's no secret. And their mission statement always has been "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful". Not a secret either.

  15. Aaron Toponce | November 15, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    You honestly don't understand how your access point is tied to your Google address? Heh. I thought you understood this topic. I guess not. BTW, the only one wasting your time is you. If you have better things to do, then why are you trolling here?

  16. Peter Pan | November 16, 2011 at 2:50 am | Permalink

    adding _nomap?

    how does this data get used to track your location?

    while walking around with your 'smart' phone in your pocket, unless configured otherwise, it will be scanning for wlan broadcasts. the geolocation of those broadcasts are known (either other users' devices configured to provide that data to say google or via google's streetview missions) and thus your location can be known.

    that your ap at home is called "dd-wrt" is not such a big deal as far as tracking your location. it also provides its mac, which unless configured otherwise, is unique.
    that your phone/laptop/... detected wlan access points with macA macB, then macB and macC but no longer macA, your location and direction can be extrapolated.

    is that not the issue?

  17. Mario | November 16, 2011 at 3:05 am | Permalink

    Why don't you explain it to the idiots then?

  18. Rubin110 | November 16, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    Aaron: If I change my name to rubin110_nouseragent, will you please stop disclosing my useragent to the world?!!!one1

  19. Aaron Toponce | November 17, 2011 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    You came to my site, using my Apache service, running my blog. If you don't want your useragent string shown, don't comment. Either that, or use some sort of extension to change it. Oh, and thanks for your website, email address, and IP address. 🙂

  20. Bill | January 26, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    switching to IE, chrome is becoming more and more evil. I'm going to close my gmail account, it's all got too much targeted. Targeted adds, targeted emails and now targeted location. Internet must be free, open and anonymous.

  21. William Neal | June 19, 2014 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    How can I track someones physical address from an offensive comment posted to a web article comment thread.

  22. Bob | August 6, 2015 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    First off, anything that anybody collects about you, you should have the right to know up front.(mandatory or voluntary info) It's your personal info and is subjective to what you deem is private or willing to share or not. Just like nobody has a right to dictate or cherry pick your rights because there views are different then yours. This is basic stuff here people. Use common sense and stop pushing what you individual believe.

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