[clug] Free WiFi Geolocation data (was GPS, GIS, GTS, SDI and FOSS)

Robert Edwards bob at cs.anu.edu.au
Wed Mar 2 16:49:09 MST 2011

Speaking of GPS/GIS/GTS/SDI and FOSS, I was involved in an interesting
discussion with some (nameless) dudes after CLUG last week at which we
were discussing the WiFi GeoLocation technology used by Android devices.

Seems it is now becoming a standardised part of the (one day to be 
announced) HTML 5
Specification (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W3C_Geolocation_API)

The way Google/Android do it is by detecting the MAC addresses of each
WiFi access point detected and mapping them into their GIS. Then, when
you want to use various GeoLocation apps on your device, it simply
reports to the servers the MAC addresses of all the WiFi A/Ps it can
see and the servers return a position (to some degree of accuracy).

After some thinking, I have come to the conclusion that I have no
particular problem with people/organisations having this data - it is,
after all, visible to anyone who cares to look.

My main concern is the real-time accessing (or querying) of this data.
The "when" and, by implication of the search, the "where" of the
querying, not to mention the IP address being used. And, if you have
certain cookies in your web-browser, then the possibility/probability
of further corelation of who you are, where you are and when you were

So, I think that this WiFi GeoLocation data needs to be "opened" up,
so that people can query it in real-time without divulging the above
"meta-data" to any one mega multi-national organisation/government etc.

Clearly there is no reason for Google to give out the data they have
painstakingly collected, so I am interested in any local projects like
OpenStreetMaps etc. that may be already looking to collect this data
from members of the freedom-seeking public.

I've been looking (on Google..., as well as Yahoo, Whirlpool etc.) but
haven't seen anything sufficiently open and local to participate in as

I am thinking of some sort of federated system, where I can participate
in collecting data for my area and then share it "off-line" with others.

I can download data that other people have collected "off-line" and
then use it when and where I want to without anyone else collecting
meta-data about my present location etc.

Just some ideas. Interested in what others may have already come across.

Bob Edwards.

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