In today’s day and age, everyone is concerned about Internet privacy. We are all too aware that our search engine history, personal pictures, IP addresses, and email are less than private these days. Although companies like Facebook and Google claim to respect certain aspects of users’ privacy rights, there is still lingering anxiety over many of their practices. As it turns out, some of these anxieties are well founded.
Last Monday night Google issued a statement instructing users on the process of hiding their Wi-Fi access point so that it is invisible to Google’s location services. Sounds good, right? In theory this document should have given users simple and uncomplicated information about this process. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
After a long section touting the benefits of location based services, which is only to be expected, Google gives instructions that are all but impossible for laymen to follow. They involve changing your wireless network name to include the ending “_nomap.” Although this process seems straightforward, Google’s directions are all but clear. Instead of providing detailed instructions for each of the major access point manufacturers, Google simply provides links to the companies’ manuals. As the Business Insider points out, changing the network name will involve retraining all of your wireless devices to recognize the network. What percentage of Google users have the time to go through all this trouble?
If Google was really interested in privacy, and not just the appearance of it, they would make this process much simpler. They might have even made this service “opt-in” as compared to “opt-out.”
While I understand that Google makes it money on this sort of data collection that allows its search results and advertising to be location specific, I wish that they were more transparent about their aims. As mentioned in previous posts, location based search is invaluable to small businesses. The concept is great, but this recent development in implementation is concerning. While many find receiving location based search results highly beneficial, others should have the right to easily opt out of the service.
Google’s “solution” for these users is laughably transparent, and won’t sit well with many customers. Backlash has already erupted on the Internet and while Google is probably too large to be seriously affected by this one blunder, if the search engine megalith continues down this road, there are sure to be serious consequences.