Feeds

Mozilla goes where Google fears to tread with geolocation service

Privacy? We're keen on it now but might let you opt out in future

Maximizing your infrastructure through virtualization

A few years back Google got into fearful trouble by recording the location of WiFi transceivers without asking for their owners' permission. Lots of public outrage later, regulators pulled out their biggest and pointiest sticks and the Chocolate Factory destroyed the data.

What then to make of the newly-revealed Mozilla Location Service, “an experimental pilot project to provide geolocation lookups based on publicly observable cell tower and WiFi access point information”, that does more or less the same thing?

Mozilla says the service is an experiment “... to assess the impact Mozilla can have on the geolocation landscape, specifically to improve user privacy and enable innovation by creating public data sets”. The organisation is trying to position itself as an honest broker, with the following explanation of its intentions:

“Geolocation lookup is a very useful service to provide to users. There's no public data set to provide this service. None of the current companies offering this type of service have any incentive to improve on privacy. Geolocation lookup and the potential for tracking the physical movement of individuals is a serious privacy issue.

Why Mozilla? The web platform needs the capability, and currently we have to provide it in our offerings through business deals without much impact on the privacy aspects of the service. We have a unique access to Firefox on lots of devices for gathering and reporting back data. We don't have to monetize the gathered data and can make it available to the public. If we can run a successful service, we get leverage to improve the privacy aspects in the landscape.”

The foundation intends to crowdsource location data through tools like this “MozStumbler” app on GitHub. The app records SSIDs and tags them with GPS co-ordinates, uploads them to Mozilla and can also allow users to see their progress on leaderboards that turn collecting data into a fun compeition.

Google got into trouble with its geolocation service because it collected data that may have made it possible to identify individuals. Mozilla's privacy parameters suggest it knows of that strife and plans to avoid it, with the following regime:

“For the purposes of the geo-location service we are only interested in the public metadata about wifi networks, specifically the technology standard in-use, the frequency it's operated on, the signal strength and the technical network name (bssid). We'll never listen in or record actual network traffic.

For the wifi operator to opt-out, we follow the industry standard of filtering out any wifi networks with a clear text name (ssid) ending in '_nomap' and ignore any ad-hoc wifi networks. Both of these filter actions happen on the client side, so our service never sees them.”

The organisation has, however, left the door open to future services based on IP addresses, saying that “In the future we might want to use Geo-IP based lookups to enhance or provide coarse-grained fallback for the service. Before we do this, we'll do a thorough analysis of the involved risk, as the combination of IP address and time of service usage can uniquely identify users.” ®

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
Major problems beset UK ISP filth filters: But it's OK, nobody uses them
It's almost as though pr0n was actually rather popular
Apple orders huge MOUNTAIN of 80 MILLION 'Air' iPhone 6s
Bigger, harder trouser bulges foretold for fanbois
Google Nest, ARM, Samsung pull out Thread to strangle ZigBee
But there's a flaw in Google's IP-based IoT system
US freemium mobile network eyes up Europe
FreedomPop touts 'free' calls, texts and data
'Two-speed internet' storm turns FCC.gov into zero-speed website
Deadline for comments on net neutrality shake-up extended to Friday
Oh girl, you jus' didn't: Level 3 slaps Verizon in Netflix throttle blowup
Just hook us up to more 10Gbps ports, backbone biz yells in tit-for-tat spat
Want to beat Verizon's slow Netflix? Get a VPN
Exec finds stream speed climbs when smuggled out
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.