Late last night, I linked to a blog post Google put up and jotted down some initial thoughts. Given the response (thousands of views, 100+ notes, etc.), I thought it was only fair that I elaborate a bit.
Google’s post is entitled “Greater choice for wireless access point owners”. It outlines new opt-out functionality for Google’s location database. I ripped into the post — as did several others — not so much because of the feature itself, but because the post is misguided and disingenuous. In my view, it is probably the worst post Google has ever put on their blog. And that’s saying something.
First of all, this is a post that should not have been written — at least not in the way that it was. Google is building their location database using WiFi hotspots, likely including yours if you broadcast your SSID (your router’s name). Apple does the same thing. So does Skyhook (which is suing Google for ditching their location database to build their own). So do others. It’s a good idea. And it makes locations services much better.
Unfortunately, while doing this, Google was sloppy. That’s a nice way of putting it. Less nice: they shit the bed. For three years they were inadvertently collecting personal information alongside the anonymized location data. For obvious reasons, this caused a lot of outrage. As a result, Google had to come up with a way to appease the data protection hounds.
The solution is a joke.
Written in a way that only a lawyer could love (and written by a lawyer, naturally), Google outlines a way to opt-out of having your router used in their database. All you have to do is append “_nomap.” to your SSID.
It’s so simple even… well, probably 10 percent of the population could do it. More importantly, maybe .01 percent of those 10 percent will actually do it. And that’s probably generous. It has to be the most disingenuous opt-out functionality ever. Google might as well make people solve calculus problems to opt-out.
As Dan Frommer tweeted this morning, “Pretty sure Google’s disconnect with society hits its peak here. So ridiculous, it’s almost a parody of itself.”
All Google’s post does is exacerbate the situation — a situation which they created, remember. The use of the words “greater choice” in the title is insulting. As is the suggestion that other companies should follow their lead here with “_nomap.” — implying that Google is doing this for the benefit of mankind.
Google is doing this because they shit the bed and now need to appease the European data hounds. If they really cared about the privacy ramifications here, they’d make their WiFi location collection opt-in. At the very least, they’d post about it at a more reasonable time than 11PM (2AM ET) on a Monday (though it was the early morning in Europe).
But the truth, of course, is that Google making such a feature opt-in would kill the service. No one would opt-in to it. So instead, Google is giving the illusion of choice — sorry, “greater choice”.
It’s so wonderful that Google came up with such an elegant solution to protect us from the location vampires that they created. I can’t wait to see the lovely “_nomap.” SSIDs pop up all around the world.
I’ll be shocked if I see one. Ever.
Update: To make matters worse, there’s some confusion about whether or not you have to include the “.” in the “_nomap” suffix. According to the blog post, yes. According to the documentation, no.
Just to be safe, I suggest: “FUCKOFF_nomap_nomap.”