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Mozilla Technology

Mozilla Location Service: Geolocation Lookups From Cell Towers and WiFi Data 46

Posted by samzenpus
from the where-in-the-world dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Mozilla today launched an experimental pilot project called Mozilla Location Service. The organization explains its goal is to provide geolocation lookups based on publicly observable cell tower and WiFi access point information. Mozilla admits that many commercial services already exist in this space, but it wants to provide a public one. The company points out there isn't a single 'large' public service that provides this data, which is becoming increasingly important when building various parts of the mobile ecosystem."
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Mozilla Location Service: Geolocation Lookups From Cell Towers and WiFi Data

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  • Great (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ArcadeMan (2766669) on Monday October 28, 2013 @04:12PM (#45262243)

    Megacities like Tokyo and New York will have great and precise services. Middle-of-nowhere-town with under 50 000 people will have jack squat.

    • by icebike (68054)

      Megacities like Tokyo and New York will have great and precise services. Middle-of-nowhere-town with under 50 000 people will have jack squat.

      Don't be so sure.
      Although WiGLE.net is easily slashdotted, try visiting it next week, and zoom the interactive map (link near top) to some dusty bump in the road, and you will probably not believe the number of wifi access points that are mapped. If someone just drives by while running their app, the location isn't too precise (mapped to the middle or the road), but if they spend a little while in the area the mappings become quite precise.

    • Yeah. So?

  • Hey Mozilla ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Monday October 28, 2013 @04:16PM (#45262277) Homepage

    How about you spend some time working on stuff which protects our identity and privacy instead of rolling over and giving the advertisers what they want?

    I have no interest in a location service, so it damned well better be something which is easily disabled.

    • Re:Hey Mozilla ... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mythosaz (572040) on Monday October 28, 2013 @04:25PM (#45262357)

      I have no interest in a location service, so it damned well better be something which is easily disabled.

      Noted. ...but you're the product, not the consumer, so good luck with that.

      It's an unpopular opinion, but I went "all in" on Google a while back. I log into my browser, I log into my phone, I let them see my documents, I let them know my location. Some number of "partner" companies know an awful lot about me. ...and in return I get pretty good information from Google in real time (or even in "precog" in Now) that I find helpful. ...and I get that information on a from-Google HTC one running stock Android.

      • There's one born every minute.

        • by mythosaz (572040)

          In exchange for a great end-to-end user experience with the Google suite, I give up a lot of information about myself.

          I do so freely, and I like what I get in return.

          If that makes me a sucker, then so be it.

          • I, too, like the convenience.

            (I can only assume logging into slashdot with my G+ account is proof enough of this)

            • by mythosaz (572040)

              I, too, like the convenience.

              (I can only assume logging into slashdot with my G+ account is proof enough of this)

              I'd link the two accounts if I knew how... But I'm not adding any more digits to my UID; it's long enough already.

              If Google's willing to tell me what time I need to leave to get to a party on time based on real-time traffic, I'm willing to let it know where I am and let it read my calendar. ...and frankly, I don't mind the ad for potential birthday gifts it shows me when I go to that birthday party -- I'd have forgotten without it. Advertiser makes a sale, and I'm not the shitheel that forgot to bring a g

      • by Anonymous Coward

        One of us! One of us!

    • Re:Hey Mozilla ... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by icebike (68054) on Monday October 28, 2013 @04:35PM (#45262441)

      So you didn't read TFA ? (Of course not).

      It is trying to build a public (or so it says) database of where there is cell towers and or wifi, all geolocated by GPS.

      Skyhook [skyhookwireless.com] already has their database, mostly of wifi addresses volunteered.
      Google has their database, which they jump started with Street View cars, but now keep up to date with a bazillion android phones running around.
      WiggleWIFI [wigle.net] has their wifi only database, collected by volunteers, which is public and massive, but not all that usable, although you can probably zoom into your neighborhood and find Wifi routers by the dozen.

      But this database is supposed to be available publicly, and will know that if you are connected to Cell Tower XYZ, and your phone can see tower RWC, then you must be located in this particular grid square. Nobody but the cell companies have that data.

      This project aims at collecting those tower locations, and wifi locations.

      If you don't want to participate, then don't install the app on your smartphone.

      But be aware the maps exist already, in a number of disjoint databases. This one hopes to make it a joint one, and a public one. They are late to the party, but at least they claim it will be public. Its not clear just how public, but hinted at is the ability for your laptop, or phone, to pin point its location without a clear view of the sky (no GPS) simply by virtue of what router you are talking to. There isn't a hint about feeding advertisers.

      • by guanxi (216397)

        If you don't want to participate, then don't install the app on your smartphone.

        I can't opt-out. How will your solution prevent others from recording the location of my wireless router, or prevent people from misusing this database to hack my location?

        • by icebike (68054)

          Your wireless router uses the public airwaves.
          It was never intended to be a secret.

          EVEN if you don't broadcast an SSID, your router's existence is still public knowledge.

          How does one hack a location? Is that like breaking into a fortress?

          • by guanxi (216397)

            Your wireless router uses the public airwaves.
            It was never intended to be a secret.

            EVEN if you don't broadcast an SSID, your router's existence is still public knowledge.

            Agreed, but I don't buy that it's ok to collect, store, and analyze anything that's publicly observable. With modern technology, that means that only things I do in a sealed, shielded basement room are private.

            How does one hack a location?

            Use it in combination with other tools, such as those that can extract location information from my phone, to determine my location.

            • by icebike (68054)

              Agreed, but I don't buy that it's ok to collect, store, and analyze anything that's publicly observable. With modern technology, that means that only things I do in a sealed, shielded basement room are private.

              It maps the location of your router, not what you are doing on your router.

              You are saying that Rand McNally can't publish maps because you like to barbecue in your back yard wearing your PJs.

      • by adolf (21054)

        If it's not public as in "I can download the database from ftp.mozilla.org," then it's not public enough: I want/need a location services that can function without Internet connectivity.

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        umm.. whoever wrote the submission, "the organization explains its goal is to provide geolocation lookups based on publicly observable cell tower and WiFi access point information"

        that's the other way around, actually. not a map to be used to find wifi. but a map to use wifi and cellid to find your location(this can make gps lookups way, way faster, so you can use shittier chips and get location in shittier coverage).

        though, I remember a public such project from about 10 years ago in regards of cellid(devic

      • by the_olo (160789)

        It is trying to build a public (or so it says) database of where there is cell towers and or wifi, all geolocated by GPS.

        For cell towers, there alredy exists such a database:

        OpenCellID.org [opencellid.org]

        There are numerous client apps for Android (e.g. Tower Collector [google.com]) that allow you collect logs of GPS coordinates+visible tower cell IDs and submit these logs to OpenCellID.

    • I have no interest in a location service

      Ah, I see. YOU have no interest, ergo nobody else could possibly find it useful either. Thanks for clearing that up.

  • by Anne_Nonymous (313852) on Monday October 28, 2013 @04:42PM (#45262529) Homepage Journal

    "Realizing the text message was coming from inside the house, she mouthed the letters 'OMG'".

  • good ! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by johnjones (14274) on Monday October 28, 2013 @04:51PM (#45262605) Homepage Journal

    Finally a decent system for cell towers... I trust mozilla a lot more than "commercial" interests who skew the results biased around a particular provider and don't update their DB when new equipment is installed !

    OSM should be helpful to verify exactly where these towers and what frequency they are as well...

    should this not be public knowledge anyway ??

    John

  • I'm more interested in downloading the database (or at least a country-specific subset of it) and using it directly. It's growing right now, so the database will change a bit, but once it has matured weekly update would keep you pretty well up to date.

    It looks like each submission weighs in at about 600 bytes, but the assembled data could be much smaller. How big do you think a completed database of, say, the US would be?

  • by Okian Warrior (537106) on Monday October 28, 2013 @04:59PM (#45262687) Homepage Journal

    I envision a lot of use for geolocation services.

    A site could disallow access from problematic countries. For example, allowing East Asian countries read access but not post (to forums) access might cut down on sock puppet and spam replies.

    Of more interest is the NSA angle. Suppose your website disallows visitors from within 50 miles of Washington, DC. Or better yet, shows sanitized links to visitors known to be associated with the government.

    Any IT person will know that this is trivial to circumvent, but look at it from their point of view: Nothing they use locally will see the links they need, anyone outside the radius can't send a link into the circle for review, and setting up a tunnel (VPN &c) to a location outside the radius is a pain, and all the effort could be invalidated by the website adding the tunnel exit to the block list.

    It wouldn't be hard to keep a global list similar to the SPAM blocklist sites that have lists of IPs used by government. You could download a blacklist that includes the local police station, state police, and FBI building. People could "report" access from government agencies like they currently report spam activity. It would be much easier to hold that demonstration without the police knowing your plans in advance.

    Again these are not difficult to circumvent, but it makes it harder for the criminals to get in, and economy of scale is on your side: one blocklist would have to be circumvented by each agency addressed. One action on your part needs actions from multiple parties to compensate.

    If there were a simple implementation of this - say, an Apache plugin that periodically grabs the blacklist - it would be a big headache for the overlords.

    • The system's privacy model would be extremely broken if it allowed web-sites access to the user's geographic location without explicit permission from the user. And depending on the site you are going to have a varying rate of refusals from the non-trivial to the overwhelming.

      People will prefer competitor sites that don't spy on their location.

      This system is only useful if it provides end-user benefits. It's not a service for web-service providers to pick and choose their clients.

  • I hear that all the time.
    Ok.
    Sounds like all balance, quiet, peace and not to worry.
    Sure.

    Well -- then, who are the predators in this 'ecosystem'?
    Is it an ecosystem?

    Aren't there certain 'entities' that seem to be equipped
    with, for want of a better term, God-like powers, who
    appear to have that smug prerogative of "Eco, Igo,
    Anything Goes".

    • by geekoid (135745)

      One Thing Computers Will Never Be Able To Do: Descend From Apes.
      interestingly, it's one thing man didn't do either. we do share a common ancestor.

      Of course, if we are talking about biological computers, then all bets are off.

      • Descend From Apes. interestingly, it's one thing man didn't do either. we do share a common ancestor.

        Which was an ape.

      • by brianerst (549609)

        Humans aren't just descended from apes - we are apes. Anything that is part of Hominoidea is an ape (great or lesser).

        Humans are technically great apes (Hominidae) - part of a family that includes gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans.

  • If you are using Firefox or SeaMonkey as your browser (both Mozilla-based), get the SecretAgent extension from https://www.dephormation.org.uk/SecretAgent/ [dephormation.org.uk]. Since I installed it in SeaMonkey, not only do many sites have trouble locating where I am, some sites cannot even determine on which continent I am located.

  • I started mapping wifi networks with openwlanmap [openwlanmap.org], which will likely be used by GNOME [blogspot.be], a few weeks ago. Now it seems like Mozilla products will use their own database. Why cannot projects just work together, so we have 1 good database used by all FLOSS applications?

Cobol programmers are down in the dumps.

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