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...
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.