Google Map's - How does it work? It's magic......

Recent news article caught my eye surrounding the German data commissioner's comments and subsequent 'surprise' from the UK's governing body on data privacy regarding how Google manages to provide location based services such as your nearest cash machine or railway station.

Location, location, location

The most common method of actually pinpointing where you are is to use the GPS system which powers our in car navigation systems. This method alone only offers a level of accuracy to within 15 metres (on a good day) and is affected by the surrounding landscape, built up areas having an impact of the overall accuracy - something which is key when trying to provide location based services and information to users via their hand-held devices.


So while GPS offers a good starting point, additional information is required to allow for applications such as augmented reality and location based services which depend on their accuracy.

Google's* approach has been to use information it additionally gathered while trawling the streets with it's camera enabled cars, information we all publish from our wireless networks in the form of the SSID's these networks generally "publish".

Each of the cars was enabled with a scanner, this picked up yours and mine home wireless name and other technical information and logged it's location in Google's database, this information is then used to assist with increasing the accuracy of it's location based services.


It seems the German commissioner and now the UK's are upset because they were not asked if Google "could" perform this data collection, I assume for them to evaluate the potential risks associated to this information being leaked.

Google's response is this is publicly broadcast information which is available to anyone, therefore they do not need to ask for permission.


I think the lack of understanding as to how these technologies actually work from the government agencies is worrying, many a published document from Google and other providers goes into detail of it's use of such Wi-fi information.

Is it Google's job to help these organisations understand how this information is collected and used, therefore allowing these agencies to make fair evaluations of the risks?

In this case what actually are the risks and is Google actually sensitive to these concerns?

* other location based companies have been using a similar approach for years : Skyhook in Boston as one example.

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