Geode in Firefox 3.1: Lost in Linux

Oct 14, 2008

Firefox will soon integrate Geode (via the W3C geolocation API specification) into its browser, thereby exposing the user's current location. Meanwhile Linux users will have to forgo this service in that it involves proprietary software.

Mozilla Labs presents the following scenario: When you open the Firefox browser, it knows where you are and immediately opens websites for nearby restaurants, stores and other attractions. Mozilla developers have already integrated this feature, as the Geode plug-in, in the current beta version of Firefox 3.1. It is based on proprietary software from a company called Skyhook.

Geode collects the MAC addresses from access points in a city like Yonkers in a database. Because these addresses rarely change, the Skyhook Wireless XPS software uses this data (along with GPS and cell tower data) to acquire the user's location. As the user joins the Internet per VLAN, the software scans the MAC addresses of all the access points in the area and, if successful, locates the user and gives his position to a querying website. Users can also feed their position and access point data manually to the database.

The collected data lands in Skyhook's WiFi database, which is not publicly accessible. As the Skyhook FAQ states, "In developing this system, we have invested a significant amount of time and money." This also seems why the feature doesn't work with Linux. The Skyhook libraries aren't available for Linux and it's questionable that they will ever run under a free OS.

Some questions are definitely being asked. Among them, why does Firefox possibly want to integrate a product that questions the openness of the software? Is the browser on its way to being proprietary software, considering the recent EULA controversy? Even more importantly, do Firefox users, irrespective of OS, really want to give away their exact location to websites? With Skyhook's claim of accuracy to within 10 or 20 meters, this virtually allows a user's private home address to be passed on.

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Comments

  • don't panic

    The geolocation API is being implemented in 3.1. For the windows *beta*, a proprietary reference sample application is included.

    World not ending yet.
  • Go seeing by your-self

    hxxp://labs.mozilla.com/2008/10/introducing-geode/
  • Correction

    The API is open-source, it's a W3C standard. What is not open-source is the service that the API is using. Remember that Google.com in itself is not open-source despite that the platform is. Also a bar appears each time a site want to know where you are and ask how much information you want to send to the site.
  • who is this for?

    Why do developers think push-advertising technology is something users want?? I'm not a privacy nut but this is downright creepy if you ask me.
  • No Geode in Firefox.. Oh dear how sad never mind

    This is great news. Sometimes I just love Proprietary, especially when not being able to use it protects my privacy.
  • What a STOOPID move!

    Yeah, way to go Mozilla. What happened to Firefox being lean and mean???

    What happened to open source? You can't include closed, proprietary BS in a FREE (as in speech) browser!

    Are you TRYING to drive people to Chrome in droves? A STOOPID (too dumb for a "U" in there) move on your part. Especially alienating the linux/free software crowd.

    Mozilla is selling out ... time to search for a new browser. Opera's starting to look pretty good.
  • it's for the better...

    I recall reading somewhere that it was easily disabled and the user had control over how much information is sent. Still, I don't see any utility for the enduser and I imagine that browsers derived firefox's source code, such as iceweasel and swiftfox, would probably not adopt such a technology anyway.
  • Awfull development

    If this gets integrated into firefox and it's either hard to deactivate or comes activated by default, I'll have to migrate browsers. After years of avoiding spammers and ignoring sites that use my perceived ip to run their ads, I'm not getting near anything that provides the same kind of privacy invasion.
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