Google recently introduced a new feature into Android 8.1 Oreo that displays how good a public Wi-Fi network is before you connect to it. Using just simple terms like Slow, OK, Fast, and Very Fast, it will let you quickly gauge whether a network is worth connecting to, or if you’re better off just sticking with mobile data.
Android is relying on the Usage & Diagnostics sharing feature to crowdsource this data. When you connect your phone to an open network, say at Starbucks for example, the speed of this network (along with other information) is shared with Google. On a long enough timeline, as people continue to connect to the network and the information is shared with Google, a baseline for speed and reliability is established.
Once that baseline is clear, the Network Ratings feature is able to reliably tell you how good a network is before you connect to it…as long as its popular enough. Your local mom and pop coffee shop might not get a rating, or may take longer, if it’s less trafficked than the local Starbucks.
In a world where personal information being shared is a constant concern for many, you’d be remiss to not at least wonder how secure this feature is—especially on the sharing end. The short answer here is that the data is, like most shared data, anonymous. Google isn’t collecting what you’re doing while connected to these public networks—though we should definitely mention you shouldn’t be doing anything personal while on a public network anyway—just the most basic of data.
Of course, the Usage & Diagnostics feature used to collect the network data is about more than just network data. This is a very generalized data collection tool, which helps Google “improve products and services for everyone.” This includes your battery level, how often apps are opened, and the quality/length of network connections for both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Google also details how it uses this information on the Usage & Diagnostics support page, but here’s the pertinent bit:
For example, Google can use usage and diagnostics information to improve:
- Battery life
Google can use information about what’s using the most battery on your device to help make common features use less battery.
- Crashing or freezing on devices
Google can use information about when apps crash and freeze on your device to help make the Android operating system more reliable.
Some aggregated information can help partners, like Android developers, make their apps and products better, too.
If you’re not on board with sending this sort of into back to Google, thankfully it’s optional.
To disable Usage & Diagnostics Sharing, open your phone’s Settings menu by pulling the notification shade and tapping the cog icon.
From there, scroll down to Google and tap on it.
Tap the three dots in the upper right corner, then choose “Usage & Diagnostics”
Slide the toggle off here, and you’re out. No more information will be shared from your phone, though you’ll still see all the benefits of the info that shared from other users—like Network Ratings.