Mozilla developing geolocation data service for public use

The privacy-aware project will use publicly available cell tower and Wi-Fi signals

Early adopters of Mozilla's new geolocation data service, as of Oct. 28, 2013.

Early adopters of Mozilla's new geolocation data service, as of Oct. 28, 2013.

Mozilla is working on a geolocation data service using cell tower and Wi-Fi signals to give developers what it says will be a more privacy-aware option than current alternatives.

The service, which is in its early stages, would be mobile-focused, though laptops without GPS hardware could also use it to quickly identify their approximate location, the Firefox browser maker announced Monday.

Geolocation data constitutes a crowded space -- commercial players include Neustar IP Intelligence, MaxMind, IPligence and Google. But there is still no large public service option, Mozilla said. Also, Mozilla's standing as an open-source software developer puts it in a better position to grapple with issues around privacy, the company said.

"None of the current companies offering this type of service have any incentive to improve on privacy," Mozilla said in its Wiki page devoted to the project. "In order to do this assessment, we need to understand the technological challenges and get real data," the company said.

The data would be provided by cell towers, Wi-Fi and IP address information, Mozilla said, and it would not have to be monetized. It could be made available to the public, the company said. And Mozilla is already in a good place to start, given its access to Firefox data on both mobile and desktop PCs.

The experimental service already provides basic service coverage in select locations to some early adopters, Mozilla said. Countries where it is active include the U.S., Brazil, Russia, Australia and Indonesia. People can start giving Mozilla data for the project by installing the company's stumbler application.

Google, meanwhile, is one of the bigger players in geolocation data, though the company has faced legal troubles by sniffing and storing certain data from Wi-Fi networks. Google also operates its Maps Engine Platform for companies looking to build maps to help run their business.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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