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Geolocation in HTML5 – we know where you are!

While waiting for the Windows 10 technical preview to update and settle, I called up the maps app to look around. First thing: it asked whether it was OK to find the current location. That was curious. The machine has no GPS so direct location was out. It has no cell radio to tower triangulation was out. The IP address would only point downtown to the ISP. Despite all this, the maps app figured out my location within 500 feet or so. How did it do this?

It turns out that geolocation services are a part of HTML 5 and that evolved out of cell phone location services that evolved out of a need for emergency (911) response assistance. Windows 10 is a Microsoft effort to consolidate its software over the entire gamut of computing devices from smart phones to high end home PC’s so it inherits a lot of things. Geolocation services is one of them. What my computer does have is wifi and it appears that there are servers that collect wifi node data to be able to compare signals to figure out where you are by what nodes your computer can see.

This type of thing frightens people who are paranoid about invasion of privacy and such things. That is why geolocation services are optional with the prompt I got on running the maps app. It is also why there are articles about How to Fake your Location in Google Chrome.

“Earlier, websites would use the IP address to determine your approximate location but with the HTML5 Geolocation API, web browsers can more accurately detect your location using data from GPS, Wi-Fi networks, cell towers, Bluetooth and the computer’s IP address. If you agree to share your location with the browser, it will send these details to Google Location Services for estimating your location which is then shared with the requesting website.

To give you an example, open the Where am I app in your browser, allow it to use your location information and the app should be able to display your latitude and longitude coordinates (it is more accurate on mobile browsers as those devices have built-in GPS).”

Remember the brouhaha about Google listening for wifi networks while driving the streets for its mapping service? Now you know what Google was really after: mapping wifi nodes to specific locations to improve its geolocation service to be used by HTML5 compliant software.

The reason for these services is to enhance the utility of your computer in finding nearby resources. Whether you are looking for plumbers or a coffee shop or local events, knowing your  current location helps the computer hone in its search results to find things that are more likely to be useful to you. This is a feature and capability that wasn’t even on the horizon just a few years ago. 

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