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Mozilla Is Mapping Cell Towers and WiFi Access Points 113

Posted by timothy
from the where-you-are dept.
First time accepted submitter neiras writes "Mozilla is building a map of publicly-observable cell tower and WiFi access points to compete with proprietary geolocation services like Google's. Coverage is a bit thin so far but is improving rapidly. Anyone with an Android phone can help by downloading the MozStumbler app and letting it run while walking or driving around. The application is also available on the F-Droid market." "Thin" is relative; it's quite a few data points since we first mentioned the pilot program a few months ago.
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Mozilla Is Mapping Cell Towers and WiFi Access Points

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  • Re:Privacy (Score:4, Informative)

    by FunPika (1551249) on Friday January 17, 2014 @08:02PM (#45993459) Journal
    If I recall correctly, the main thing that got Google in trouble was that they were actually intercepting information sent through unsecured access points in addition to mapping out access points in general.
  • by BBF_BBF (812493) on Friday January 17, 2014 @08:36PM (#45993855)
    icebike, If you had bothered read the Mozilla Location Service Project Page, the goal of the project is to create an Open Wifi AP/Cell Tower to Geo Location Mapping Database, It's not meant to map Cell Coverage. []

    This will allow the look up of rough position information without turning on the GPS using an OPEN DATABASE. The same thing that a few PROPRIETARY databases do currently.

    Given this goal, road coverage is good enough.
  • by icebike (68054) on Friday January 17, 2014 @09:00PM (#45994093)

    Follow the first link in the story. The biggest text on the page says COVERAGE MAP and when you follow the other links
    it is clear that their intent was a coverage map, not a data-point map where Joe Sixpack happened to see a Cell Tower.

  • Re:Privacy (Score:5, Informative)

    by tlhIngan (30335) <slashdot AT worf DOT net> on Friday January 17, 2014 @09:03PM (#45994131)

    What's the point of this?

    Actually, it's to... provide an alternative locating service to GPS.

    Both Apple and Google maintain a list of WiFi MAC addresses and GPS locations. In areas where there's no GPS, or GPS is extremely weak, using cell tower and MAC addresses can provide alternative location services. Or for devices without GPS hardware, it can provide location services still. E.g., if you tether a WiFi-only iPad to an iPhone, it can get your location quite accurately using the database.

    Apple bought a company that maintains the database, Google built theirs up using streetview. Mozilla is probably trying to create an open-source version.

    And it's that database that lead to the whole "tracking" scandal of iOS 4 - because whenever you requested a location Apple sends you a database containing locations near you as well so you can do mapping without continually asking Apple where it is. That database cache was what people said "Apple is tracking them!" Of course, it wasn't, but knowing what areas the cache covers helps in knowing where you might be. In densely populated areas with a lot of APs, Apple would send you a very narrow list that can be quite accurate to your track. In areas with more sporadic coverage, you get a bigger footprint because there's less data per square mile (Apple probably sends you a fixed number of APs to locate oneself, rather than send you all the APs within a certain radius).

    So in the city, you can get down to street-level tracking. In the suburbs, well, the cache is probably only good for pinpointing to a few blocks.

  • by SoftwareArtist (1472499) on Friday January 17, 2014 @09:07PM (#45994169)

    I did follow the link. You're misinterpreting it. This is a data coverage map, that is, a map of how much data they have in different places. It has nothing to do with cell phone coverage.

  • Re:Privacy (Score:5, Informative)

    by cheater512 (783349) <> on Friday January 17, 2014 @09:11PM (#45994215) Homepage

    Completely. This just looks for the 'announcement' packets from access points. It doesn't care or do anything about the data packets.
    You are intercepting data just as much as your phone does when you go to the wifi page and it shows the list of access points near by.

    Google was accidentally storing all the raw data for debug purposes (which got left turned on).

  • Re:Privacy (Score:4, Informative)

    by foobar bazbot (3352433) on Friday January 17, 2014 @09:34PM (#45994411)

    Geolocation for what though?

    Say I go to google maps, or mapquest, or openstreetmap, or whatever. That web page will ask the browser to do geolocation, the browser will throw up a dialog something like this:

    Website wants to know your location.
    {Scare-text explaining why I might not want to click OK}
    Send location data?
    [Yes] [No]

    If I click yes, the browser sends my location to the mapping site. Now I'm looking at a map of where I am, I can search for businesses nearby, etc.. Or, if I don't want a map of my current location, I could just click no, then I'd have to type in an address or search query to find the map I do want.

    Or some ad server wants to show me banner ads for nearby stores, so it asks the browser to geolocation; the browser will throw up the same dialog, I'll click no, and the ad server doesn't get my location.

    Or any other web site that might want to know my location for any reason, same story: The browser pops up a dialog, I click yes or no, and the site gets or doesn't get my current location.

  • Re:Privacy (Score:3, Informative)

    by master5o1 (1068594) on Friday January 17, 2014 @09:58PM (#45994615) Homepage

    Also to improve GeoIP: If they connect to the WiFi, know the IP it uses to get to Google servers. Then they can provide the most probable location data back when some device on that IP asks for location information.

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