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14 September 2011, 16:29

Google to provide location service opt-out for Wi-Fi owners

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On its European Public Policy Blog, Google has announced that it is to provide an option for wireless access point owners to opt-out from Google's location services. The location of private Wi-Fi systems is used by Google, and other operators, as one means to help estimate a phone user's location for the delivery of some services. However, many data protection authorities in Europe have objected to the practice and Google's move is in response to these objections.

Many phones that might access location-aware services do not have GPS, so other methods are needed to estimate location – data from cell towers is commonly used, but Google points out that this is not sufficiently accurate. When the Google cars travel around a country taking images for Street View, information about Wi-Fi systems is stored and used as the basis for location estimation. The database is also added to with additional data collected from phones.

Google states that owners of wireless access points are not identified; only the MAC address and location are stored. As a result of the criticism it has received – and in order to be seen to be taking steps to protect people's privacy – from later this autumn owners worldwide will be able to opt out of the system and thereby not allow their access point details to be used. The exact time from when this will be available has not been announced; the method of opting-out has also not yet been described.

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