johnsu01 (johnsu01) wrote,

Big Brother says put your hands in the air

and wave 'em like you just don't care. (Updated 2005-08-04 16:46)

Let me see if I understand this right. MSN Virtual Earth, which is a satellite mapping client like Google Earth, has a Locate Me button.

• Locate Me. With this feature consumers can quickly find their present location, then explore and discover the area around them. The Locate Me link activates Microsoft Location Finder, which uses Wi-Fi access points or Internet Protocol address geocoding to determine a person’s location.

Actually, I already know my present location. Translation: "With this feature, consumers can quickly report their present location to Microsoft..." But, ok.

I understand the IP lookup. That looks up your internet address, which is provided by your ISP, and derives an approximate geographic location based on that, because the two things are somewhat related. My understanding is that this isn't all that accurate.

You can see for yourself. My current IP address is reporting as NY, even though I'm in Boston.

But, the wi-fi access points. Here is Microsoft describing how it works:

It operates seamlessly with MSN Virtual Earth and turns a regular Wi-Fi-enabled laptop, tablet or PC into a location-determining device without the addition of any separate hardware. When the Locate Me link in MSN Virtual Earth is clicked, Microsoft Location Finder is activated and uses Wi-Fi access points to determine the user’s location. Next, the user’s present location is centered on the map, enabling him or her to quickly and easily search that area. Microsoft Location Finder can be downloaded free when a user initially clicks on the Locate Me link...

Read that again. Microsoft will put software on your computer that turns your computer into a device capable of reporting your geographic location to its server. It seems the only hardware you need is the wireless card you probably already have.

This probably works by using your card to scan for other networks in the area, gathering information about their signal strength and IP range --- triangulating your location based on your relationship to other networks whose locations are known.

This is something that people want? I wouldn't click that button folks, even if you really do want to find a Chinese restaurant in your immediate area. I'm also itching to read the Terms of Service for this feature, and what they are allowed to do with the information that you just so happily gave them.

Update 1: I read the associated privacy policy. It sucks. You can read it yourself at the MSN Virtual Earth page.

Update 2: On the other hand, here is a cool use for something like this. Georeminders. When you walk by the store, your phone reminds you to buy orange juice. When you're near the post office, your phone reminds you to mail your bills. However, none of these nifty uses require you to transmit your location to anybody.

Tags: geolocating, microsoft, privacy, wireless
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