Google is planning to allow users worldwide to opt-out from their Wi-Fi hotspot location database later this fall. The announcement, made on the search giant’s European public policy blog, is surely a response to legal troubles the company has encountered after it was revealed that the process of mapping these hotspots also captured information about individual Wi-Fi devices like computers and smartphones. Google has also run into legal trouble when the company admitted in 2010 that it had inadvertently intercepted fragments of data being sent over the networks it was mapping.
The information in this database allows Google to estimate the geographic position of a user based on the known positions of Wi-Fi hotspots. Early iterations of the iPhone determined location in the exact same manner, using a database from SkyHook. To create their own database, Google’s streetview cars were equipped with Wi-Fi sniffing sensors that mapped the location of every wireless device they came across, as well as some they didn’t intend.
Google has insisted that the location information that the information it has collected is benign. In the case of device location data, the information is mostly anonymous. Furthermore, users of laptops and smartphones have little to worry about since the data would only show where they were on one particular day. However, users and privacy advocates have balked at the idea of having a private company in possession of such information.
It should be noted that that furor surrounding iPhone’s “tracking” the movement of users was, in reality, an attempt to create a similar database for location purposes. Microsoft also ran into legal trouble while making their own database. Location information is, clearly, quite valuable to today’s tech companies.
The search giant promises that more information will be available once the opt-out is put into place this fall. Then you’ll have one less entity with your personal information in hand to worry about. Maybe.