Friday, January 25, 2008

According To Your iPhone: You Don't Live Where You Slept Last Night

Yesterday, I followed a reader submission to XLR8YourMac about Skyhook Wireless (The company Apple is using to supplement the recently aded iPhone & iPod Touch "LocateMe" feature):

From XLR8YourMac:

Some [XLR8YourMac] readers may have overlooked the details of how Google Maps actually determines your location. They use a combination of triangulation with cell towers and nearby Wi Fi connections. Interestingly, they always default to relying on Wi Fi when it's available. Here's the description of the process according to the Ted Morgan, the CEO of Skyhook, the company providing the Wi Fi mapping data to Google:

"Every Wi-Fi access point, whether public or private, sends out a signal every second or so, like a lighthouse. We pick up those signals and use our technology to calculate your exact location. Skyhook detects but does not connect to those Wi-Fi networks. They sent teams of drivers around the USA and Canada to map out hot spots in order to get its service up and running. The firm claims to have 70% of North America covered and is now cruising Europe and Asia to build its database."

Last week I replaced my 3+ year old Linksys Wireless G router with a new Airport Extreme. I gave my old router to a friend, who had just bought the iPod Touch and needed a Wi Fi router in his home. After he installed my old router, he fired up the iPod Touch, connected wirelessly to the internet, and immediately tried out the Google Maps feature. When he asked Maps to determine his location, it quickly placed him at ... MY HOUSE!

Frankly, I found this to be a bit spooky. Apparently, Skyhook has driven down my suburban street sometime in the past three years and mapped my Wi Fi signal! Besides the obvious weirdness of knowing that my WiFi router information resides in their database, I was wondered what happens to the accuracy of this system as Wi Fi equipment moves around? How good is this data going to be next month or next year? Cell towers don't move around, but Wi Fi does. My friend can't localize himself when he's at home, because it continues to show him living in my neighborhood, which is many miles away. Fascinating...
-Steve A."

---------- FIX YOUR THINKING COMMENTARY ----------

I personally think Skyhook should somehow compensate anyone who's router is in their database - maybe with one free access to a closed/paid hotspot. At the very least, I think Skyhook should be acknowledging the router owner that their router is being pinged by their service and therefore allow an opt out - EVEN IF the network is wide open. Honesty such as this may actually get others to join the database.


Anonymous said...

Interesting. To me the bigger question is just how often Skyhook's trucks roll around a given area -- so how long does it take them to realize an access point is no longer there?

Can't say I agree about compensation. maybe I'm just a curmudgeon, but why does everybody want money for everything? I suspect Skyhook doesn't even know who the signal belongs to. They just detect the access point and plug it into their database.

On paper this is a great thing, in my opinion, but clearly without frequent and ongoing updates the whole system could be rendered useless.

Anonymous said...

No one's router is being pinged. In fact NO DATA is sent to these routers at all. Wireless access points and routers, regardless of WEP, WPA or other security settings send out a so-called beacon with certain unencrypted information. None of that information is anything personally identifiable, it's basically the name of your network and the MAC address of the hardware.

To suggest that people be compensated because they choose to broadcast certain information on public airwaves is ridiculous. And as for opting out? You opted in when you bought and plugged in a radio transmitting device.

FYT said...

compensation doesn't necessarily equal money ... but compensation does encourage participation. This wifi triangulation could be a lot more useful if it were even 80% accurate or just 20% more populated

Anonymous said...

Getting paid to go war driving? - wonder how you apply for that job!