Once again, Google has been caught with its pants down – or, more accurately, it’s been caught pulling down other peoples’ pants. It turns out that when Google Street View vans “accidentally” slurped up 600GB of personal information off WiFi networks for three years, it wasn’t really an accident. In fact, at least half a dozen people at Google knew about the data collection and did nothing to stop it.
As I stated in my rant (“Google is the new Peeping Tom”), I think sending vans festooned with cameras down my street to snap pictures of my house – let alone slurp up my data -- is a violation of my privacy.
Think about it. If some stranger walked down your street, stopped in front of your house and snapped a photo, you’d probably stop him and ask him what the hell he’s doing. If he told you he was putting all these photos in a massive address database accessible by anyone in the world at any time, you’d probably tell him to take a hike. I know I would.
So I think it’s time to tell Google to take a hike. Because I’m trying to think of why having a photo of my house in Google Street View benefits me, and I’m coming up blank. Maybe if it was a commercial or rental property, it would be helpful for strangers to see it. Otherwise, nada.
I also don’t think Google should be mapping everyone’s open WiFi networks with its Street View Vans. So here are two ways to tell Google Street View to sod off.
1. Remove your house from Street View
Yes you can ask Google to remove your home or other buildings from Street View. Thank the German government for that; they insisted Google offer that option before rolling out Street View over there in 2010, and Google then extended it to everyone else. So far, some 3 percent of Germans have opted out. What that means in real terms is that the houses are still visible, but the details have been blurred.
To follow the Germans’ lead you need to start by finding your house on Google Maps, then drag the little Street View Man onto the pavement in front of your abode. Once you’re looking at your house you need to click the barely visible “Report a problem” link on the bottom left of the photo.
Make sure you click the correct “Report a problem” link, as there are two of them on that page and they do different things.
That bottom link will take you to a Web site where you can report an “inappropriate” street view. You have three options. You can report the view for “privacy concerns,” but only if it’s a picture of a face, a house, or a car or license plate that hasn’t already been blurred.
You can report “offensive content, such as nudity.” Or you can select Other, which includes errors in the map, bad image quality or “security concerns.” Some military bases and intelligence agencies have gotten themselves exempted from Google Street View, for example, because the images could provide helpful intel to bad guys.
I didn’t want my house blurred out, though, I wanted it removed, permanently. So I picked the security option and sent a note asking them to make my house invisible. Didn’t make a damned bit of difference, though -- they just blurred it out anyway.
The good news? They’re pretty quick about it. My house was removed in less than 24 hours. The bad news? You may have to opt out again the next time Google sends Street View vans snooping around your hood.
2. Remove your WiFi network from Google’s database
Though Google claims it has stopped slurping up people’s data, you may still want to remove your WiFi network from the Google Location Server database. Really, can anyone trust what they say any more?
There’s a solution, but in typical Google fashion it’s too geeky for most mere mortals. To keep Google’s grubby mitts off your WiFi, you need to append the phrase “_nomap” (without the quotation marks) to the end of your Service Set Identifier (SSID). So if your home network is called “Dans House of Awesome,” you’d have to change it to “Dans House of Awesome_nomap.”
Simple right? Not exactly. This means two things.
1. You’ll have to remember the log on and password for your WiFi router.
2. You’ll have to change the WiFi settings on every single device that accesses your network, or they won’t be able to find it.
Odds are you never changed your router’s default password, which means you may be able to look it up online. If you did change it and you can’t remember the new one, you’ll need to manually reset your router and start from scratch. Fun, eh?
In my house, more than a dozen devices access our WiFi network -- from desktop and laptop PCs to tablets, mobile phones, Roku devices, XBoxes, and so on. So adding _nomap to the wireless settings on each one is a pain. If you’re going to go to that kind of trouble, you might as well encrypt your network (as I have). That will also keep Google’s spying eyes away from your WiFi.
The exact steps will vary depending on your router manufacturer, model, and the software it uses. Digital Inspiration blogger Amit Agarwal offers a good step by step guide here.
There are philosophical reasons why some people leave their WiFi nets open, but most folks do it because they don’t know any better or simply don’t care, one way or the other. With insatiable data hoarders like Google prowling your neighborhood, however, you should care. You should care a lot.
I say, it’s time to boycott Google Street View. Let 100 million houses blur. Are you with me?
Got a question about social media or privacy? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynan_on_tech. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.
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