Nov 16 2011

Google’s wifi mapping non-solution

Published by at 6:10 am under Privacy,Risk,Security Advisories

Google got in a lot of trouble last year for capturing private data from wireless networks when they were driving the googlemobiles around to get video shots for StreetView.  Basically, rather than just capturing the SSID for the access points, in a lot of cases they captured data streams from the AP’s, which violated all sorts of European privacy laws.  And in reply to this, Google came up with a solution:  users can opt-out of Google’s wireless access point mapping solution by simply adding “_nomap” to the end of their SSID!  So simple it’s stupid.  No, I mean it’s so simple it’s absolutely idiotic and a waste of the digital ink that was used to express the idea!

I think MG Siegler expresses it best when he said, “The solution is a joke.”  Siegler thought of the same things I did when he saw this so-called solution.  First, only a fraction of a percent of people are even going to understand that Google is mapping their access points and even a smaller segment of the population is going to understand what that means.  And of that small group, only a much smaller percentage are going to make the changes to SSID names necessary to opt-out of the Google mapping.  I thnk that his .01% of the 10% of the people who actually read the article is a bit generous; only the truly paranoid will opt out using this method, and they probably weren’t advertising their SSID to begin with.

Let’s think about the pain in the arse it is to change a SSID to include ‘_nomap’.  My house is probably not normal, but it’s what I have to use as an example.  I have two wireless networks, two access points, three desktops, half a dozen laptops and a server that all would have to be changed to include the ‘_nomap’ SSID.  Plus there are a few more systems to worry about when you include the gaming systems the kids use.  The average household probably doesn’t have nearly that much equipment, but they also don’t know enough about wifi to set it up with proper encryption in the first place, so why would Google assume the average home user would know enough to change the SSID on all these systems once they finally got them running on their home network?

Let’s be honest; all Google is doing is waving their hands over StreetView in an effort to claim they’re doing something in front of governmental bodies who wouldn’t know the difference between an SSID and Sid Vicious.  In most cases, they’d probably recognize Sid Vicious before they’d have a clue what an SSID was or what it’s used for!  Siegler nails it when he states that Google might as well ask for people to solve calculus problems.  And I’d be willing to guess there are a number of people would have an easier time solving advance mathmatical equations than they would changing their SSID.

I want a solution that doesn’t require me to change my SSID to opt-out of Google’s mapping.  It’s a stupid solution and I’m not changing my SSID to include the ‘_nomap’ modifier.  My last thoguht is two-fold:  What effect will this have on the all the data that Google has already collected (Answer: none) and will Google actually honor their own ‘_nomap’ identifier and drop the data at collection or will they simply not display the access points using ‘_nomap’ but keep the data in their database?  I think you and I both know the answer to the second one as well.

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One response so far

One Response to “Google’s wifi mapping non-solution”

  1. Johnon 16 Nov 2011 at 10:28 pm

    I am totally agree with you. This is not a joke but a stupid step. They should think how can a non technical guy can understand that _nomap thing.

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