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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Mozilla Lab Introduced Geode, An Experimental Add-on to Explore Geolocation

Geode, an experimental Firefox add-on to explore geolocation in Firefox ahead of its implementation in a future product release. Geode provides a rudimentary implementation of geolocation for the current version of Firefox uses a single hard-coded location provider to enable Wifi-based positioning conforming to the W3C Geolocation specification so that developers can begin experimenting with enabling location-aware experiences today.

For example if you’ve arrived in a new city, a new continent, a new coffee shop. You don’t really know where you are, and are looking for a good place to eat. You pull out your laptop, fire up Firefox, and go to your favorite review site. It automatically deduces your location, and serves up some delicious suggestions a couple blocks away and plots directions there.

In order for this to be a possibility, browser needs to know where you are. To do this, future versions of Firefox plan on supporting the new W3C Geolocation Specification, which adds the native ability for Web sites to request, and you to optionally grant access to, your location.  Mozilla lab is still working out the specifics, but they’re hoping that location will be provided by one or more user selectable service providers and methods, e.g. GPS-based, WiFi-based, manual entry, etc. You’ll be able to play with this in the upcoming beta releases of Firefox 3.1, as well as alpha releases of Fennec.

Geode includes a single experimental geolocation service provider so that any computer with WiFi can get accurate positioning data.

The potential here is for more than just restaurant lookups. For example, imagine an RSS reader that knows the difference between home and work and automatically changes it’s behavior appropriately. Or a news site whose local section is, in fact, actually local. Or Web site authentication that only allows you to login from certain physical locations, like your house.

How It Works & Privacy Implications

With Geode when a web site requests your location a notification bar will ask how much information you want to give that site: your exact location, your neighborhood, your city, or nothing at all.

Mozilla is using Skyhook’s Loki technology to map the Wifi signals in your area to your location. Unlike normal GPS-based methods which can take upwards of 45 seconds for a lock, Geode works both inside and outside with an accuracy of between 10 to 20 meters, normally within a second.

Please note that in this early implementation, both location and IP information is sent to the current provider, Skyhook, everytime a website is granted access to your location. Skyhook’s privacy policy is that they do not store or use any personal identifying information, and they promise to only keep data in anonymized agregate. The ultimate plan for Firefox is that service providers and geolocation methods will be pluggable and user selectable — to provide users with as many choices and privacy options as possible.

As an experiment, Geode is also the beginning of a conversation about location-based privacy and integrating services that share personal data into Web browsers.

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