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Google to let hotspots mask location data

14 September 2011, 18:19 CET
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(SAN FRANCISCO) - Google is out to appease European officials by letting the owners of Wi-Fi "hotspots" opt-out of sharing data that helps pinpoint the locations of smartphones.

Google uses publicly broadcast data from Wi-Fi access points to quickly figure out where smartphones are located.

The process does not identify who is using devices but provides information for services such as mapping routes or finding out what types of shops or attractions may be nearby.

"Even though the wireless access point signals we use in our location services don't identify people, we think we can go further in protecting people's privacy," Google global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer said.

"At the request of several European data protection authorities, we are building an opt-out service that will allow an access point owner to opt out from Google's location services," Fleischer said in a blog post.

Once a hotspot owner opts out, Google will not use that Wi-Fi access point to pinpoint the whereabouts of people using smartphones or other Internet-linked mobile gadgets, according to Fleischer.

Smartphone locations can also be determined using GPS capabilities built into the devices or by their proximity to cell towers but those techniques are not considered very precise.

"We'll be making this opt-out available globally, and we'll release more detailed information about it when it's ready to launch later this autumn," Fleischer said.

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