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Behind the "My Location" Errors In Google Maps 78

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-can-see-my-house-from-here dept.
waderoush writes "Ever since Google added the 'My Location' feature this week to the desktop and laptop versions of Google Maps, allowing Firefox and Chrome users to see their current location on a map, people have been reporting bizarre location errors — Manhattanites, for example, are being told by Google that they're in Austin, TX. Ted Morgan, the CEO of Boston-based location software provider Skyhook Wireless, talked about the problems in an interview Friday. Skyhook's Wi-Fi-based location-finding technology was passed over when Mozilla adopted Google's own location services toolkit for Firefox 3.5 in April; Morgan says that was unfortunate for Web app developers, because Google's 'crowdsourced' database of Wi-Fi access point locations is far less reliable than Skyhook's."
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Behind the "My Location" Errors In Google Maps

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  • by Patman (32745) <pmgeahan-slashdot@noSpaM.thepatcave.org> on Saturday July 11, 2009 @12:38PM (#28661533) Homepage

    CEO of competing firm: "This totally wouldn't happen with ours, ours is awesome!" No meat there, just an assertion passed as fact in a 'news' article.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Google did this to me a few years ago with a front page redirect (it thought I was in somewhere in South America). Their ip to location DB is 'ok' but has flaws.

      Tell them
      http://www.google.com/support/websearch/bin/request.py?contact_type=ip [google.com]

      It takes about a week to a month and they will correct the mapping.

    • by MikeFM (12491)

      The odd thing IMO is that I've been using the GeoIP db for years and it is pretty reliable and very easy to use. Why does the browser even need this feature? It's not perfect as some IP addresses aren't correctly mapped but typically they are very close. I use them on my eCommerce sites to give estimates on shipping without asking the user for their location and to present location aware suggested products.

    • Well, I'd say that a real gps-based database always beats a crowdsourced one. So he may be right, and the assertion may be rightful. Dunno.

      But just because he states "This totally wouldn't happen with ours, ours is awesome!", this does not mean that he *has* to be a liar.

      I know, I know. A CEO not being a liar. Good joke and all. I could nearly not believe it myself. :P

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 11, 2009 @12:47PM (#28661593)

    The initially war-drove around, mapping APs. Then when users connect to those APs in the database and query the location, they also send back a report on other nearby APs. This allows their database to grow and become more accurate over time, without them having to keep war-driving previously established areas.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I sincerely hope it gets more accurate! Not only is it consistently wrong, it isn't even wrong the same way. Today it is showing me in a very small, tight circle in a city 60 miles away. That's better than a few days ago when it was flip-flopping between a 15 mile radius circle in the right area and an area in a state several states away from me.

      Not ready for prime time, that's for sure.
      • by bstreiff (457409) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @01:25PM (#28661863)

        Skyhook's reliance on wireless APs doesn't work so well when the APs move. I took my APs with me when I moved to a new place, but my iPhone (which uses Skyhook's assisted-GPS) thought I was always at my old place for months until I realized what was going on and that I should submit my AP MAC addresses [skyhookwireless.com] to correct their location.

        It's possible that it sees an AP near you that's recently been moved.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Seeing as how this is a lower density residential area (with just single family homes on decent sized lots (10,000 SQ FT lots), and nobody next to me has moved in awhile I think it is more likely that it changes as some of the AP's show as available, then show as not available (the list sometimes shows 3 other times it shows up to 6). I imagine that is the difference. Right now it shows 5. Oops, checked again and it is 6 APs. So I think as they come and go from the list it decides I have moved miles.
          • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward

            It say's you're in texas. because that's where the 'linksys' AP was last seen...

        • by byteCoder (205266)
          I had the same problem with SkyHook this last month. I set up my Airport Extreme in my hotel room in San Francisco for WWDC. When I re-used it on a visit to Northern Wisconsin (where there was no cell phone, much less AT&T service), my iPhone always reported its location as the hotel I was staying at in San Francisco. Frankly, I was surprised that SkyHook picked up my new access point in the short amount of time that I had it up and running in San Francisco.
    • by Mana Mana (16072)

      ``The initially war-drove around, mapping APs. Then when users connect to those APs in the database and query the location, they also send back a report on other nearby APs. This allows their database to grow and become more accurate over time, without them having to keep war-driving previously established areas.''

      I don't know why you had to go ac on us---just saying, Ted^W.

      I've heard of their technology, it was a few years ago when the suggestion that gps chipsets in smartphones was a fantasy; lookee what

  • by Dalroth (85450) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @12:49PM (#28661607) Homepage Journal

    I've been looking in Google Maps for this mythical "My Location" feature and I can't seem to find it. What am I doing wrong? I've got my default location setup, but I'm pretty sure that's not what they referring to.

    Bryan

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's in Google Maps for mobile devices, not in a web browser.

      • Like, RTFA? But it's only there if you're using Firefox 3.5 or Google Chrome, and if you've got the options set correctly (which doesn't seem to work with my copy of Chrome?) and if you can figure out that the not-very-obvious little circle-in-a-square icon on your Google Map is a "My Location" button (waving the mouse over it seems to invoke Tooltips.)

        The article doesn't say if Google Maps works differently depending on whether you're on a laptop vs desktop (or how it can tell) - my laptop moves around t

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Right above the zoom buttons, you have a street view icon. Between the street view icon and the scroll buttons, you may see a small circle. Click there.

      Unfortunately, Google has horrible user agent sniffing. I'm on Firefox on Linux, and I need to spoof myself as a Windows user to get that button.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by BusDriver (34906)

      It's just above the zoom in and out slider, a little round circle in a square (with cut off corners). Or just below the hand with the four arrows.

      Click that and a bar will appear at the top of firefox and ask if it's ok to share your location.

      Hope this helps.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by The MAZZTer (911996)

      It's the little circle thing by the panning and zooming and street view controls.

      When I click it it takes me to Austin, TX, which is over 1500 miles from where I actually am. And where I actually am isn't even Manhattan, but New Jersey. Google says it's because laneline-based connections are probably going to show erroneous results based on ISP, except that Verizon is based in Viriginia according to whois, not Texas!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by auric_dude (610172)
      The Google "My Location" feature is indeed hard to find and some also report having problems finding other G"spots"
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by waderoush (1271548)
      Dalroth: The new My Location feature only works when you're visiting Google Maps using Firefox 3.5+ or Google Chrome 2.0+ (or any browser equipped with Google Gears).
    • by Dalroth (85450)

      Thanks everybody. That little icon is so not intuitive. I never even saw it until you guys pointed it out.

      Bryan

    • by Ritchie70 (860516)

      Maybe this is your problem?

      Currently supported browsers include Google Chrome 2.0+ (using Gears), Mozilla FireFox 3.5+ or any browser with the latest version of Gears installed.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I think that Google needs to look into its error management systems, as this isn't the only Google system to have trouble lately. Google Groups is having some major issues with the search engine- it's next to impossible to find things right now. Searches that should find information find nothing, and the advanced search is especially broken.

    Google Groups search was especially useful in finding helpful information on older usenet posts, so it's unfortunate that this is the case. While I'm not saying the prob

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Jack9 (11421)

      This has nothing to do with "error management". Geolocation by IP is based off a combination of who leased the IP and where the packets are routed. If you are working through a dedicated T3 in Orange County, you're likely to resolve to Seattle. This is a persistent problem for geolocation services, not specifically Google. I'm not sure the point of the article, when anyone who's used commercial and free lookups, knows this is par.

      In other news, they probably heard that Vista is a next generation OS.

      • This has nothing to do with "error management". Geolocation by IP is based off a combination of who leased the IP and where the packets are routed. If you are working through a dedicated T3 in Orange County, you're likely to resolve to Seattle. This is a persistent problem for geolocation services, not specifically Google. I'm not sure the point of the article, when anyone who's used commercial and free lookups, knows this is par.

        In other news, they probably heard that Vista is a next generation OS.

        Thank you Jack9. This is what I was thinking the whole time. Have they been living under a rock. If you really need to find your location, with a still far from perfect but higher consistency GPS is within most peoples reach. This IP location technology at its best is on the level of amusement rather than anything to rely on.

  • by ilsa (197564) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @01:04PM (#28661705) Homepage

    Every now and then my G1 will insist that I am somewhere in Oregon. Usually I am clued in by the weather app giving a clearly erroneous temperature on the front screen. Perhaps my phone is just asking for a trip to someplace cool, since Vegas gets pretty hot in the summer. So far the phone has always come to its senses in a few hours.

  • by hitmark (640295) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @01:19PM (#28661821) Journal

    get a gps dongle, and install google gears if your using firefox (tho i'm not sure if there is one for 3.5 yet), and get improved accuracy.

    question is, when can one get automated routing to the nearest pizza place?

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      get a gps dongle, and install google gears if your using firefox (tho i'm not sure if there is one for 3.5 yet), and get improved accuracy.

      Google gears is available for the some mac crap, 32 bit linux on x86, and windows x32/64, on Firefox 3.0.10 and older. That's it! I went hunting for explanations, the official excuse is "we don't test on RCs because we would have to make too many builds." Consequently, google is not ready for FF 3.5 even though it was not a secret.

      Do yourself a favor, and don't depend on google gears. Even google does not bother to take it seriously.

      • by hitmark (640295)

        And still its built directly into chrome, and used for gps support on google maps with geolocation...

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          And still its built directly into chrome, and used for gps support on google maps with geolocation...

          Chrome is NEVER going to take over from Firefox as long as it has its current license. Also, as long as it is missing critical features that drove people to Firefox in the first place, like an Ad Blocker that actually works. Failing to support the most important Open-Source browser in an attempt to gain relevance for your own browser is a Microsoftian bitch move.

  • by 0123456 (636235) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @01:21PM (#28661835)

    A while ago I was working in Italy: Google would then redirect me to Google in the Netherlands, and Facebook rather kindly switched automatically to displaying its pages in Dutch. Steam usually gets the location right, but won't then let me use my perfectly valid British credit card to buy games when I'm not in Britain.

    This is one of the most user-unfriendly ideas to infest the web over the last few years.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 11, 2009 @01:48PM (#28662051)

      Language switching based on guessed location is evil. That's what the accept-language HTTP header is for!

      • Precisely! And I wish more multi-lingual sites would pay attention to my preferences as given in the accept-language header rather than demanding that I make my selection from their language menu.
    • by Ihmhi (1206036)

      A lot of it has to do with "rights" based on country. A company might have the right to distribute a game in Britain, but not in Sweden. As such, they would have to have a way to ensure that the game is only distributed to people in Britain.

      It would be much more in the spirit of the Internet if there were more "global" rights for distribution, but I think many people can recognize how this would be a double-edged sword.

    • I live in China, and it's always wonderful when some brain-dead web page decides to serve its content to me in Chinese, despite the fact that my web browser and operating system are en-US. It is especially nice when there is no option to change back into English (looking at you here, Bing.com).
  • As a software developer myself, while still professional embarrassed at any bug that escapes into the wild, I know how today's modern software ecosystem has evolved: iteratively. This obvious defect--pinning the snobby effetes of Manhattan in the alcohol-immersed college town of Austin, Texas--seems almost fitting. Maybe Google My Location is on to something. As I write this, I think I'm in Manhattan but wait--all the license plates are white, with a red star. What's all that green stuff on the ground where

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...it's way past time to be making assumptions about a person based on where you think that person may be.

        Just because I'm in Germany doesn't mean I want the German language version of anything. Quite the opposite, in fact.

        Apart from helping me figure out where to go, I don't see the value of geolocation on the web. All the touted benefits of geolocation other than finding directions seem either naive or sinister to me.

  • It used to be very good. When I was at work (in downtown LA) it would not only identify the building I was in correctly, but it would also identify which side of the building I was in). When I was home it gave my location as being less than a block away from my real location.

    But bizarrely, it is getting worse. Nowadays, it is not unusual for it to be way off. Right now I tried my location on my cell phone and my true location is just outside of the blue circle "my location" gives out.

    So that is rather unusu

  • The article says Google is crowdsourcing their data, but if so, where's the input? When I click on "My Location", I just get a message that "Your location could not be determined" - I don't see any followup on "so where are you, so we can add this location/wifi-signal pair to our database".

    For what it's worth, Loki gets my home location exactly right, while Google doesn't even venture a guess.

    • I must be missing something. I went to the Loki website and told it to find me - to do so, the site wants to download and install stuff (lokiplugin93586120938561098512093.exe), using a Java applet whose certificate has expired, and which runs outside the sandbox.

      And this is supposed to "just work" on public websites? Are they seriously expecting people visiting random websites to download and install (with admin rights, no less) unexpected software, because that site is offering local advertising?

      Seriously.

  • by azav (469988)

    In parts of Africa, GPS coordinates in Google Earth are off by hundreds of miles.

    • Depending on country, you may be running into filtering. In the UAE, I used to get very different mapping results for the same coordinate if I used a local proxy, but the US-based proxy would be spot on.

  • I don't know exactly how Google is "crowdsourcing" the AP locations and similar (TFA doesn't clarify), but a competing firm to Google and Skyhoook, Navizon [tinyurl.com], uses similar tech.

    The difference is that while it is unclear what method Google use, Navizon clearly states they will PAY users who have GPS installed in their phones, to roam around and collect Cell ID, APs, etc. and submit it to them. At the SAME time you get maps to see where you are, Buddies to see where your friends are, etc.

    So in this instance

  • by Plug (14127) on Sunday July 12, 2009 @08:55AM (#28667049) Homepage

    What is the link to the "Your guess at my location was wrong: I am actually at" page?

  • Its okay (Score:2, Funny)

    by garphik (996984)
    Its still beta ;-)

If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts. -- Albert Einstein

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