“When we originally proposed the Gears Geolocation API our goal was to make it easy for developers to deliver location enabled web sites on mobile phones”, wrote Charles Wiles, Product Manager, Google Mobile Team. “However we realized laptop users would benefit from location enabled web sites too. Today we are adding WiFi signals to the Geolocation API so that laptop users can benefit from location enabled web sites for the first time and mobile users from the increased accuracy. And because the Geolocation API is the same for developers in both desktop and mobile browsers you can even use the same code on both platforms!”
Google Gears is integrated in the recently launched Chrome web browser and in the Android platform, it is also available as an add-on to Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari browsers. This WiFi positioning technology is also starting in Google Maps for mobile. Users of Wi-Fi enabled BlackBerry are the first to get it, but “other mobile platforms, including Android, will get Wi-Fi location soon”, said Google.
This addition to Google Gears is a very important step towards the generalization of location aware websites. Earlier this month, Mozilla launched Geode, an extension to Firefox which also allows web developers to build geo-aware websites. But the Geode location implementation is a bit more sophisticated than Google because the user can choose a degree of accuracy (in this case we might call it privacy) to be sent to the visited website: exact location, neighborhood, city or nothing .
Both Mozilla and Google developments are made in tight co-operation with the W3C consortium which is currently working on establishing a Geolocation API specification.
Geode was developed in partnership with Skyhook Wireless, a major provider of WiFi positioning services. Google did not disclose where his WiFi database is coming from, but Skyhook Wireless is not involved said a spokesperson to GPS Business News.
UPDATE: Google said on Thursday to GPS Business News that its WiFi data has been developed internally, however the company refuses to give any information about its exact coverage. "Many major domestic [US] and international cities are included in the database. We don't release a comprehensive list of areas covered since coverage will expand continuously as usage of our location-based services grows. In cities already covered, the quality of the information will also improve", wrote a spokesperson in an email.
Google is not willing to go into deep details about how cell-ID and WiFi data is collected, however the privacy terms of Google Maps Mobile gives enough details to let us understand that users having GPS are anonymously sending back WiFi and cell-ID data to Google to improve the overall product and database accuracy: “If you use location-based products and services, such as Google Maps for mobile, you may be sending us location information, such as GPS data. […] We also use the information for support, to develop new feature, and to improve the overall quality of Google's products and services.”