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My Location the Next Google Privacy Controversy?

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the learning-to-trust-the-google dept.

Google 167

theodp writes "While Google boasts one of its Privacy Principles is making the collection of personal information transparent, even techies are left guessing about what's going on behind the scenes of certain products. The American Dictator points out that Google's Wi-Fi collection efforts don't stop with its Street View cars, offering up this explanation of Google's My Location: 'When you allow Google to "know your location," what you are really agreeing to is to send to Google's computers your Wi-Fi environment — not only the name of the Wi-Fi hotspot you are logged into, but also the names and signal strengths of every Wi-Fi hotspot around you. In other words, the same things that those Google Street View cars were sucking up as they drove by your house.' So, will changes in privacy attitude prompt changes in Latitude?"

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167 comments

Dear taliban (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32417948)

Don't use this feature! It's linked to Googlepredator.

Does anyone actually use that? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32417960)

I thought the "My Location" had long been considered a massive privacy breach,

Who actually uses it?

Re:Does anyone actually use that? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32418060)

I use it on a regular basis. I also have no issue with anybody knowing exactly where I am at any given moment.

even the wife knows where the mistresses house is, and how often I'm there! I just hope the rental company doesn't know I'm having to drive a kilometer over their daily limit each time, (I drive it in reverse for one KM on the way back!) /sarcasm

Re:Does anyone actually use that? (1)

Rhaban (987410) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418100)

I just hope the rental company doesn't know I'm having to drive a kilometer over their daily limit each time, (I drive it in reverse for one KM on the way back!)

500m should be enough.

Not unusual (5, Insightful)

Miros (734652) | more than 3 years ago | (#32417962)

This method of radio-location is not special or unusual in any way. If anything, it is rather common and not even innovative on google's part. Several firms have exited for _years_ which focus on location based services as determined by nearby hotspots. Also, Latitude is littered with warnings about the nature of the service, and the fact that your location information will be sent back to Google. Of course, this is even less interesting when you consider the fact that your cell phone carrier already knows all of this information all the time and always has, which nobody makes any fuss about whatsoever.

Re:Not unusual (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32418022)

Your cell phone carrier certainly does not know what WIFI networks are available. They only know the cell phones cellular network.

Re:Not unusual (4, Interesting)

phyrexianshaw.ca (1265320) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418068)

excuse me? if your phone has a WIFI antenna, it's aware of WLAN data n a fairly regular basis, and the carrier is able to dump ALL registers from MOST phones these days.

just because SOME don't collect the data, doesn't mean ALL won't.

Re:Not unusual (0)

m.ducharme (1082683) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418900)

Many cell phones and probably all smartphones have built-in GPS. If the carrier wants to know where you are, they can determine it to a few feet the minute you step outside a building.

Re:Not unusual (1)

hvm2hvm (1208954) | more than 3 years ago | (#32419448)

why would carriers have access to the GPS data your phone receives?

Re:Not unusual (1)

Chuck_McDevitt (665265) | more than 3 years ago | (#32419542)

The phones don't usually have the CPU power to actually compute the lat/lon. Instead, the send the ephemeris data up to the Cell phone company's servers, which compute the lat/lon, and send it back. And the carrier has the ability to ask your phone to send the lat/lon information anytime they want it. At the same time, the carrier has the ability to save that information. Many sell services where you can look up the location of phones you own (AT&T does this, usually sold as a way to track your children).

Re:Not unusual (1)

Tukz (664339) | more than 3 years ago | (#32419674)

That's just wrong.

I have one of the first big commercial phones, which featured a GPS reciever (Nokia N95), and I can testify that it works without a network of any kind. It's fully capable of handling the GPS without a carrier.

However, you can opt-in to use A-GPS, which use cell towers and what not to locate.

Re:Not unusual (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#32419604)

Why would they not? I presume that any data on my phone that is shared so other apps can use it is retrievable by the carrier.

Re:Not unusual (5, Interesting)

Dishevel (1105119) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418176)

I just want google to tell me that if I move 20 yards SSW I will be able to log onto strong open wifi connection.

Re:Not unusual (5, Funny)

RivenAleem (1590553) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418522)

Careful, that'll put you right onto a motorway, where you'll get hit by a car, and it'll be Google's fault

Re:Not unusual (0, Flamebait)

Dishevel (1105119) | more than 3 years ago | (#32419258)

I so want to run that stupid bitch over.

sudo car_gps_routing|google "where is that bitch now?"

Re:Not unusual (1)

adeft (1805910) | more than 3 years ago | (#32419328)

Not sure why this got modded funny: I'd love to use this to find hotspots in places im unfamiliar with. Taking a trip to Delaware next Sunday? Where in the area will I be able to check my email?

Re:Not unusual (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32419434)

I just want google to tell me that if I move 20 yards SSW I will be able to log onto strong open wifi connection.

And to tell me which way is SSW.

Re:Not unusual (5, Interesting)

Trufagus (1803250) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418180)

Yeah, and its a bit scary that we have such misinformation even here on /. where we are supposed to know a lot about things like Wi-Fi and geolocation. How does such a misinformed and misleading topic description get through?

Re:Not unusual (2, Informative)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418370)

Skyhook wireless [skyhookwireless.com] is one major one. It's what the iPod Touch and original iPhone used. It's what Snow Leopard / Location services uses.

You do get a popup asking if you want to enable it.

Re:Not unusual (1)

Skuld-Chan (302449) | more than 3 years ago | (#32419408)

Not to mention its trivially easy to switch off location services on Android - no clue about other smart phones.

Holy shit! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32417988)

You mean that in order to use a service that uses your Wifi surroundings to determine your location, you have to send the service data about your Wifi surroundings? Holy shit!

Next, you'll tell me you have to send your private, personal *search terms* to Google to get search results - the horror!

Re:Holy shit! (2, Insightful)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418524)

Wait, you mean those words I type into the text field actually GO somewhere?

I thought Google worked like something out of Harry Potter.

Re:Holy shit! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32419222)

Googleamus!

Re:Holy shit! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32419454)

I've heard there are some pages that take your credit card number, take money from you, and even send you stuff to your own place! Amazon, Apple, NewEgg, and others do that. This is a serious privacy breach.

Google is getting scary (0, Troll)

NobleSavage (582615) | more than 3 years ago | (#32417992)

They are too big and know too much.

Re:Google is getting scary (1)

phyrexianshaw.ca (1265320) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418090)

They only know as much as you tell them, and agree to give them to retain.

if you don't like them having your information: NOBODY IS MAKING YOU GIVE IT TO THEM!

Re:Google is getting scary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32418314)

They only know as much as 'somebody' tells them. If someone plays a joke on you by putting up misinformation or other more devious offerings, you have no choice in the matter. You can't even tell them to remove that data. That is the Scary part. My one grandmother thinks a computer is just a fancy tv, yet all her info has been uploaded by her great grand kids. If she were still within her faculties, she would be concerned. She spent several decades as a privacy advocate.

Re:Google is getting scary (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418422)

That's what concerns me. I don't post anything on the net under my name, but other people might do so and there isn't anything in particular I can do about that. Other than, well moving to a shack in the middle of Montana. And you people called the Unabomber "crazy" for being so "paranoid" about the technology.

Re:Google is getting scary (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418564)

Friend comes to my house. Friend uses Google location service. Now Google has the information about my wireless network, even though I did not give it to them.

It would not be impossible for Google to determine that it was my house that the wifi data corresponds to, particularly if I use some other Google service. That means that I only really have Google's promise to "do no evil," and a hope that nobody else manages to gain access to Google's data -- that situation makes me a bit nervous.

Re:Google is getting scary (1)

arose (644256) | more than 3 years ago | (#32419214)

Unless your house is a Faraday cage Google could get that information with one of their WiFi aware vans. It's not your friend who gives out information about your wireless network, it's you, as a consequence of having one.

Re:Google is getting scary (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 3 years ago | (#32419262)

True, but that does not give Google information about which floor I live on, or which room, etc. There is a lot more information being handed over to Google than those vans are collecting.

Re:Google is getting scary (1)

paeanblack (191171) | more than 3 years ago | (#32419350)

Friend comes to my house. Friend uses Google location service. Now Google has the information about my wireless network, even though I did not give it to them.

If you are worried about broadcasting information that you would prefer to keep private, perhaps you could consider not broadcasting such information.

I've heard good reports about some networking technique that doesn't use radios. It may be relatively new, but you can find the equipment in stores.

Location (1)

dandart (1274360) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418034)

Google Chrome / Firefox asks me if they can have my location, for the websites I go on. I say yes, and they get it right. They use Wifi geolocation, and not the IP address as you'd expect. So they know my town when I'm behind an American proxy. The buggers!

Re:Location (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418210)

> I say yes...The buggers!

They ask permission, you give permission, and they do what you gave them permission to do. What an outrage!

Re:Location (1)

dandart (1274360) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418468)

The buggers that they get it right! I'm hiding from the government, so I want it to say I'm American! Haha.

Re:Location (1)

AngryNick (891056) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418390)

I'm in the US, but today Google shows my location as a town in Norway. Last week it said I was in Malaysia. Every so often it puts me in my actual office location. I'm guessing my corporate proxy has something to do with the confusion, since I'm not using wifi on my laptop.

Re:Location (3, Insightful)

safetyinnumbers (1770570) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418580)

I'm in the US, but today Google shows my location as a town in Norway. Last week it said I was in Malaysia. Every so often it puts me in my actual office location. I'm guessing my corporate proxy has something to do with the confusion, since I'm not using wifi on my laptop.

Yeah, IP-based location is very poor, often choosing the wrong city. Wifi can vary from bad to good, but it's often reasonably accurate (e.g. to a few blocks).

I once had wifi location tell me that I was hundreds of miles away - I was at an exhibition, and I assume that the wifi access points were used at different exhibition and conference halls throughout the country.

Re:Location (1)

aaarrrgggh (9205) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418962)

What surprises me is when Google shows me 20 miles out at sea... I'm close to the beach... but definitely on dry land.

Other than that, it seems to be very reliable, as in down to 30' accuracy.

Re:Location (1)

grahamsz (150076) | more than 3 years ago | (#32419798)

Couldn't we have an ESSID and BSSID swap day when we all trade our router configuration details with someone else elsewhere on the planet. Then anyone trying to use their services near my house would be told they were in alaska.

Re:Location (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32418480)

When you say yes, Firefox sends a list of the WiFi networks your computer can see to Google. Google replies with their best guess of your location. In other words, Google find out where you are even if the site you're sending the data to is someone else entirely.

Yay, Slashdot is reducing itself to sensationalism (1)

beaverdownunder (1822050) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418038)

The issue was with Google mining Wireshark style packets from open wireless networks, not SSID's. WTF is this, guys? Sheesh.

Re:Yay, Slashdot is reducing itself to sensational (2, Interesting)

maxume (22995) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418108)

I think many of the people screaming loudest about the street view data collection never understood that Google was intentionally and unapologetically logging the SSIDs.

That information is all being broadcast. (5, Insightful)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418040)

That makes it public. Google is merely asking you to forward some public information to them. You may, if you wish, decline.

Re:That information is all being broadcast. (5, Insightful)

gad_zuki! (70830) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418164)

Not to mention the summary is a troll. What google did wrong with its earlier program was actually capture unencrypted packets. These location services (google is not the only one) simply create a database of wifi names and correlate them to GPS. I don't see the problem here. If you dont want me to write down your hotspot's ssid then I suggest you stop broadcasting it.

Re:That information is all being broadcast. (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32418178)

Not quite. While the SSID's are public information, the signal strength relative to me isn't. That's something you have to be me to know or at least be standing next to me. I hardly call that public information.

Re:That information is all being broadcast. (5, Insightful)

NevarMore (248971) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418214)

Not quite. While the SSID's are public information, the signal strength relative to me isn't. That's something you have to be me to know or at least be standing next to me. I hardly call that public information.

It's broadcast, it's measurable by just about anyone, you don't have to be on private property or in a private building to detect it. I'd say that information is public.

Re:That information is all being broadcast. (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418440)

Yes, but you can't generally find that information from across the country for use on your next trip.

Re:That information is all being broadcast. (3, Insightful)

gad_zuki! (70830) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418242)

>While the SSID's are public information, the signal strength relative to me isn't. That's something you have to be me to know or at least be standing next to me. I hardly call that public information.

What? The signal strength of your SSID broadcast is as public as anything. If my ability to see your SSID and how strong it is offends you so much, please unplug your WAP.

Re:That information is all being broadcast. (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32418400)

Eh, I honestly don't know about that. It's happening in public, but does that make it public in a narrow sense?

Imagine you're chatting with a friend while you're walking down the street. Is it OK if anybody records your conversation (perhaps even without your knowledge and/or approval), stores it indefinitely, and does - well - basically anything they want with it? Is it OK if it's being sold or otherwise passed on? Is it OK if private companies do this? Your employer? The government?

I'm not sure where the line should be drawn, but "it's happening in public, therefore anything and everything is automatically fair game" strikes me as overly simplistic.

Re:That information is all being broadcast. (2, Insightful)

farble1670 (803356) | more than 3 years ago | (#32419038)

Imagine you're chatting with a friend while you're walking down the street. Is it OK if anybody records your conversation (perhaps even without your knowledge and/or approval), stores it indefinitely, and does - well - basically anything they want with it? Is it OK if it's being sold or otherwise passed on? Is it OK if private companies do this? Your employer? The government?

yes, actually whatever you do in public is in the public domain.

don't like people knowing your SSID? don't broadcast it. don't like people knowing your get sloppy drunk every day after work? do it in the privacy of your own home.

Who cares? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32418072)

Seriously, anyone can wardrive and post public SSIDs to a public website. What's the big deal?

You have to agree before Google is doing anything (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32418088)

ok there's a geolocation feature in Google toolbar. No big business.

It's astonishing how people don't understand radio (5, Interesting)

slimjim8094 (941042) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418118)

People go to great pains to send a hundred mW throughout the air as far as it'll go, and are surprised when it does just that?

I'm on a volunteer ambulance squad; being a nerd I made a python script to scrape our crappy eDispatch provider's website for our dispatches and assemble them on a nice website. There was a big fight over password protecting this... despite the fact that we are going to great pains and expense to pump the very same information at about 50W. I ended up throwing a trivial password on it, until everybody forgot.

Point is, people don't seem to understand the 'broad' part of 'broadcast', and get annoyed that they don't have full control of the signals they emanate past their walls.

Re:It's astonishing how people don't understand ra (3, Insightful)

phyrexianshaw.ca (1265320) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418162)

I completely agree, it's surprising how many people think that when they send something to EVERYONE, that they have no ability to tell EVERYONE that "that was a secret. don't tell anybody, K?"

Re:It's astonishing how people don't understand ra (3, Funny)

Mr. Underbridge (666784) | more than 3 years ago | (#32419768)

I completely agree, it's surprising how many people think that when they send something to EVERYONE, that they have no ability to tell EVERYONE that "that was a secret. don't tell anybody, K?"

Interestingly, that seems to be DirecTV's business model.

Re:It's astonishing how people don't understand ra (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32418216)

How many people have scanners these days?
How many people have the Internet?

Now do you understand why there might be concern about putting the dispatches in a central location on the Internet?

There are a lot of idiots out there, and they can really waste your time. That really is the biggest pitfall of open information, imo.

Re:It's astonishing how people don't understand ra (1, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418730)

How many people have scanners these days?
How many people have the Internet?

Now do you understand why there might be concern about putting the dispatches in a central location on the Internet

I have got to study my logical fallacies again. I can tell that this is one, but not which one it is.

Put in simple English, however, it might go something like this: Scanners are cheap, especially the ones which can only handle a couple of frequencies, which is all you need to monitor dispatches. In fact, I have not only regularly seen them on Craigslist for $10, but I occasionally see them on Freecycle for nothing. Anyone who is motivated to scan these dispatches, therefore, can do so. You could panhandle for the cost of a used scanner in most American cities in just one day, or substantially less if you're any good at spanging. So realistically, passwording the web dispatch log accomplishes basically nothing.

Your argument would only be valid if the bar to intercepting those radio broadcasts were high, which it isn't. Odds are that you could actually buy a radio used that was already programmed/crystal'd for the frequencies you want. Shit, for less than what it costs to get a computer that can run a modern web browser you could probably get one that would permit you to transmit on those frequencies.

Re:It's astonishing how people don't understand ra (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418576)

Point is, people don't seem to understand the 'broad' part of 'broadcast'

Or the 'cast' part.

OP is confused... (5, Informative)

Manip (656104) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418182)

The recent privacy controversy was never about Google detecting and recording the names, unique IDs, and signal strength of local WiFi hotspots -- It was about Google mistakenly recording traffic, including unencrypted information that anyone could easily utilise.

In addition to that, there are only four ways to locate someone connected to the Internet:
  - GeoIP which can perhaps pin you down to a city, perhaps even a town,
  - WiFi triangulation which can pin you down to within a few metres
  - Latency triangulation which is frankly uncompletely unworkable on something as complex as the internet
  - IP->Postal Address Mapping (Read: ISP's database)

Obviously only two of these are workable for someone like Google and GoeIP is completely inaccurate. No ISP is going to give Google access to their address database.

Re:OP is confused... (1)

pete_norm (150498) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418408)

...frankly uncompletely unworkable ...

My head just exploded!

Re:OP is confused... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32418664)

...frankly uncompletely unworkable ...

My head asplode!

Fixed [scienceblogs.com] that for you.

Re:OP is confused... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32419272)

Fixed that for you.

Fixed [homestarrunner.com] that for you.

Re:OP is confused... (3, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418514)

No ISP is going to give Google access to their address database.

No residential ISP. Commercial guys usually fill out the WHOIS form when they assign addresses. Otherwise ARIN gets agitated and may or may not give you more IP space when you ask for it. (Response will read something like: You want another /18? WTF? whois claims your most recent /18 is only 1% utilized?)

Re:OP is confused... (1)

FreakyGreenLeaky (1536953) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418954)

It was about Google recording traffic

There, fixed that for you. In most countries, as far as the law is concerned, mistakenly breaking the law does not absolve you.

Re:OP is confused... (1)

qwerty8ytrewq (1726472) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418992)

Add to the list of ways to locate an Internet user: - Cell tower used (if connected via 3G etc). - Snoop through their stored data. - Ask them and get them to tell you voluntarily.

Re:OP is confused... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32419616)

Manip said, "No ISP is going to give Google access to their address database." He's right, no ISP would be stupid enough to keep DB in insecure servers or access able by internal Windiz OS computers. No IT firms have any Windiz computers, no leaks, not foreign access able DBs. Right Google?

So if Google knows exactly where I am, only Google & ATT know, right?

Google already does this - sort of (1)

QBasicer (781745) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418200)

If you have Google Maps on your phone (iPhone excluded), and you have wifi enabled, it will give you your 'wifi location'. That means google already knows about where the wif access points are? But how does it know you ask? Well, when you walk around with GPS enabled, and wifi enabled, Google seems to take this data and correllate it so that it has that access point mapped out. While I don't have any kind of reference for this, I've seen it done (new router, no other wifi around, and bingo after enough times I go by it with gps, it suddenly knows where it is without). I don't care if they know the location of access points, however I am concerned about them capturing packet data. Of course, if you leave your access point open - anybody can do that....

Re:Google already does this - sort of (2, Insightful)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418302)

> ...I am concerned about them capturing packet data.

Then don't broadcast it.

Re:Google already does this - sort of (2, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418478)

You've said that half a dozen times or so.

There really is a fundamental difference between traditional surveillance and cheap, mass technological data collection (At a minimum, cost!). It makes sense to acknowledge that difference in our laws, rather that just spitting on people when they don't understand how pervasive the monitoring is, or what the full implications of their actions may be.

Re:Google already does this - sort of (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418802)

There really is a fundamental difference between traditional surveillance and cheap, mass technological data collection (At a minimum, cost!). It makes sense to acknowledge that difference in our laws, rather that just spitting on people when they don't understand how pervasive the monitoring is, or what the full implications of their actions may be.

There really is a fundamental difference between writing something on a piece of paper and putting it in a drawer, or narrowly unicasting it to another host via a wire with minimal RF radiation, and mass broadcasting the data (At a mininum, those who are trivially able to receive your message!). It makes sense to acknowledge that difference in your personal data policy, rather than just spitting on people when they receive the data that you have broadcast.

Why is it that people are capable of understanding the difference between shouting across an open field or talking into a tin can connected to another tin can on the other side of the field by a taut string, the difference between sending a postcard and a letter, or perhaps more aptly the difference between sending a postcard and engaging in a leafletting campaign, how about the difference between talking on a CB radio or making a phone call, all of which is grasped by the public at large, and then not expected to understand the difference between connecting two computers by wire, and connecting two computers by radio?

Re:Google already does this - sort of (1)

dzfoo (772245) | more than 3 years ago | (#32419002)

I'll bite.

Because the general public does not understand the underlying technology that makes computer networks work, and so may not understand the difference between connecting two computers by wire or by radio. Thus, it should be reasonable to expect them to not automatically equate the latter to broadcasting using CB radio.

        -dZ.

Re:Google already does this - sort of (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32418360)

More specifically, you have to have "WiFi LOCATION Enabled, not just WiFi Enabled.

Re:Google already does this - sort of (3, Interesting)

dn15 (735502) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418472)

If you have Google Maps on your phone (iPhone excluded), and you have wifi enabled, it will give you your 'wifi location'. That means google already knows about where the wif access points are?

Actually iPhone OS devices use wifi location too and have for quite some time. If your iPhone can't get a GPS fix, or if you have an original GPS-less iPhone, or if you have an iPod or wifi iPad, it will fall back on cell towers or wifi to determine your location. This functionality is built into the OS and works with any app that uses the location APIs.

You can't specifically enable/disable wifi location on iPhone, it's just another tool that may be used if location services are enabled but GPS is not available.

Re:Google already does this - sort of (2, Informative)

QBasicer (781745) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418660)

I guess I don't mean that iPhone doesn't have wifi location - it's the provider of that information. Last I checked it was Skyhook [skyhookwireless.com] who provided the data, not Google. Maybe the iPhone collects and aggregates the information in a similar fashion, but they don't share data back and forth. My phone knew where my old apartment was by wifi, but my iPod touch had no clue. In fact, my phone (WinMo) knew where I was everywhere in the city without ever turning on GPS, but, once again, my iPod had no idea.

Re:Google already does this - sort of (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32418496)

http://highearthorbit.com/why-the-iphone-doesnt-need-gps/

Why is the iPhone excluded? Fairly sure all the i* devices have this built right into the base OS, and not app dependent. Fairly sure they simply outsourced the data to a company called SkyHook.

I don't understand either side of this (1)

astrashe (7452) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418330)

I don't understand how Google tracking wifi networks is bad for me.

And I don't understand why Google wants that information in the first place. How does knowing my SSID help them?

Re:I don't understand either side of this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32418458)

They can tell you where you are (for maps, for instance, when you are inside a building that GPS can't reach through). This story is a non-issue

Re:I don't understand either side of this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32418540)

I should note that the service is extremely easy to toggle on or off. If you turn it off, you cannot wifi geolocate (the closest you will get is a ring around the cell tower you are using unless GPS is avaialble).

Re:I don't understand either side of this (3, Insightful)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418668)

"I don't understand how Google tracking wifi networks is bad for me."

They, or someone with access to their data, might abuse the information. If Google were a small, local company, doing this sort of thing for a single locale, it would not be so terrible -- but they are a huge, international operation, tying information together from all over the world, and using that information to determine more details about a person than that person agreed to reveal. There is a very high potential for abuse, and this is one of those situations where once the abuse starts, it will already be too late.

Re:I don't understand either side of this (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418898)

And I don't understand why Google wants that information in the first place. How does knowing my SSID help them?

Unique combinations of SSID and MAC (neither of which is unique on its own but which can reasonably be expected to be unique when combined except where someone has deliberately made it otherwise) can be associated with GPS locations when mapped by devices which possess GPS and then used to find the locations of devices which do not, later, and therefore used to perform geolocation of GPS-less devices. Now, go forth and write your article, and be sure to either give me credit or substantially alter my text.

Re:I don't understand either side of this (1)

farble1670 (803356) | more than 3 years ago | (#32419152)

How does knowing my SSID help them?

well, they don't care that it's yours per se. they map your SSID to an approximate address. that goes into a database. now when someone else's phone sees that same network, voila, they know approximately where that person is. you get GPS-like abilities on a device with no GPS hardware.

Stupid Google fanboys (1)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418548)

Always bragging about how Android does this, how Android does that.

Well, the iPhone was doing this *first*! Put that in your I/O socket and smoke it.

Re:Stupid Google fanboys (1)

RivenAleem (1590553) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418626)

I just hope that when Android becomes a self-aware death machine, it'll go after those with open, unsecured, WiFi first.

Technical questions (1)

Cunk (643486) | more than 3 years ago | (#32418742)

Is this system actually relying on MAC addresses rather than SSID's? Otherwise how can a system like this rely on a property that is often left set to the factory default or could change at any time?

Also, I guess this relies on the Google Toolbar to work since I assume there's no way for a browser to collect information about nearby SSID's (or even your SSID), right?

By the way, the above questions aren't me being worried about any of this. I'm just curious about how the system works.

Show my location (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32418848)

Your location could not be determined.

Can we just stop accepting stories from theodp? (-1, Offtopic)

MindCheese (592005) | more than 3 years ago | (#32419256)

Seriously, this is what, the 3rd or 4th blatantly misleading submission from theodp in the past two weeks?

The issue was not that Google is collecting WiFi SSIDs, signal strength, or anything like that. This is public information as far as I'm concerned (much like the street number on the front of your house) and if they are correlating that data with a mapping application, I doubt there are any laws in North America anyway that would stop them from doing so. The reason they're in trouble now is that they were also logging unencrypted traffic, which probably runs afoul of wiretapping laws pretty much everywhere.

Probably too much to hope that /. editors will stop rubber-stamping anything and everything with an attention grabbing headline, but this is getting to be too much.

Remember when we complained about opt out? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32419356)

I remember when privacy invasions happened automatically without consent, and a person had to go to extra trouble to opt out of getting tracked. Boy, people sure were pissed.

Now we have situations where people are knowingly downloading and running programs whose purpose the user knows in advance is to track where they are, and people are complaining that it does what it needs to do.

We all know we're wimps compared to the people who struggled through life 10000 years ago, but now we're wimps compared to the people who clicked their mice 10 years ago.

Not really a new thing (1)

adeft (1805910) | more than 3 years ago | (#32419400)

Google at one point funded the company Fon to provide wifi access "to the world".....I even got a free router out of the deal. To abide by their policies, I had to provide an open channel to be used by any other Fon user, and the location of my hotspot was broadcast on their website as were all other users of the service.

So.... (1)

scottix2 (1823888) | more than 3 years ago | (#32419686)

This isn't the same. You agreed to give Google that information. They can pretty much do anything they want with it.

MIT started this few years back (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32419754)

it's called a MESH network, and maybe someday
we won't need a internet "backbone" anymore?
my guess? google's just probing to see if it's feasable. if enough
hotspots overlap from the east coast to the west coast >: )

NOKIA is much worse (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32419772)

People are getting nervous because Google is collecting MAC addresses of WiFis it sees from their street-view cars. How many such cars do they have and how often one of them passes your neighbourhood? NOKIA did it better - all new nokia (smart) phones are uploading WiFis (together with current location) when doing A-GPS query. That means hundreds of thousands, event millions devices scooping on WiFis all the time!
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