Public Geolocation Vault on the Horizon?

November 25, 2013  - By

Imagine a vault of highly accurate geolocation data that provides look-up service for any device, in any country, based on publicly sent signal data. It is an appealing idea. Mozilla, best known for its popular Firefox browser, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to openness on the web. No one is better positioned to create the very first public geolocation database. Mozilla wants to build the data service with the end goals of enabling innovation and improving location data privacy. The group makes the point that improving the privacy of user data is counter incentivizing for-profit companies that collect this data. Privacy continues to be a major industry issue that has gotten more than one company in trouble with regulators and customers.

Mozilla is starting out with a pilot project, named “Mozilla Location Service,” to assess how it would build and operate a location service to provide geolocation look-up for devices. The data will be based on publicly observed cell tower, Wi-Fi or IP address information. Mozilla is enlisting its loyal community to collect the data via a special app for Android-based phones.

Admitting Wrongness. Those of us who skewered Apple for its map troubles continue to eat crow. The Apple maps have improved and are popular, or at least good enough, with most iPhone and iPad users in the U.S. As you may recall, Google maps were expelled from the iPhone when Google refused to give Apple access to its turn-by-turn navigation. Google, who had delighted in Apple’s map debacle, has now been badly humbled. The company has lost almost 23 million mobile users in the U.S. as a result of its banishment. iOS users can still assess Google Maps, but data from market research firm ComScore suggests that few actually take the trouble to download Google Maps. When iOS 6 began to roll out and introduced Apple’s maps as the default, the number using Google Maps dropped precipitously, even as the number of iPhones and Android phones began rising.

Big Money from Mapping. The value of being a map provider cannot be underestimated. Both Apple and Google cull anonymous data for traffic reporting and improving their network. More importantly, they have created a gold mine by using the data to glean for behavioral information about users. The data is fed to advertisers who create contextual ads that are more likely to get us to buy. Google also uses the data to improve search results.

Good news for the Enterprise Industry. A survey of 500 fleet operators conducted by C.J. Driscoll and Associates shows high satisfaction and strong intent to purchase GPS fleet management systems. From an enterprise customer’s standpoint, GPS-enabled solutions are measured by how quickly the company can recoup its outlay. An impressive two thirds of the fleets surveyed reported that they have recouped their investment in their GPS fleet solutions. Of the fleets that haven’t deployed a GPS fleet management system, 16 percent indicated that they expect to do so within the next 18 months. The fleet survey is contained in the C.J. Driscoll 2013-14 Survey of Fleet Operator Interest in MRM Systems and Services report.

The Final Frontier: Indoor Location. Applications are increasingly hungry for ubiquitous, well-performing location for all devices. Sensor fusion, or the intelligent combination of data from multiple sensors, will become a standard feature to help make this happen in indoor locales. “Sensor fusion will surpass Wi-Fi and Bluetooth low energy (BLE) as the most important handset-based indoor location technology by 2017,” predicts Patrick Connolly of ABI Research. “We see a significant trend towards hybridization, with Wi-Fi, BLE, and sensor fusion proving to be vital.” Companies in this market include Movea, HillCrest,, and Senionlab.

Wind Blowing in New Direction. PlaceIQ, the location context company, has ventured into location-based behavior analytics. The start-up company had been focused on providing information on the context of location in small geographic areas, 100 by 100 square meter units. One of the company’s new offerings, PIQ Analytics, “can identify which competitors a brand’s audience is most likely to visit, the restaurants where they typically dine, the type of device they use, and the stores that they frequent,” reports the PlaceIQ website. The company’s other new product tracks individuals and “determines where consumers were before arriving at a brand’s physical location.” PlaceIQ is going to have to careful how it treads this ground, if it wants to avoid raising opposition from privacy watchdog groups.

Mapping Sadness  As you may have heard, a father has discovered that Google Maps shows the body of his son, who was shot to death in 2009 beside a railroad track in Richmond, California. In a written statement, Google announced that it would accelerate the replacement of the satellite image of the map, the first time that it made such a change due to a request. Google indicated would take about eight days to make the change, as the image has continued to be visible on their maps. Perhaps a reader can explain to me why replacing this map segment would take so long, or why the image could not have been obscured by Google until the replacement is made?

I will be moderating a session at the IEEE International Conference on Connected Vehicles and Expo on December 5 in Las Vegas. The SAE-organized panel is on Connected Infotainment. The panelist are industry experts who will share perspectives in this interactive session.

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About the Author:

Janice Partyka is principal of JGP Services,, a consulting practice that helps companies with marketing strategy, including investigating new markets, ensuring product roadmaps match market needs, and creating marketing campaigns. Janice develops websites, social media, public relations and overall marketing communication. She also works as an expert witness for the mobile industry and conducts prior art searches for patent cases. Janice has served in leadership capacities in the wireless industry, leading marketing, business development, media and government relations, including serving as vice president of external affairs for TechnoCom Corporation. She briefed the Obama transition team on broadband issues. Janice was a twice-elected member of the board of directors of the E9-1-1 Institute, which supports the work of the U.S. Congressional E9-1-1 Caucus to ensure implementation of wireless E9-1-1, and she was telecom liaison to the Intelligent Transportation Society's World Congress. Janice is a frequent speaker at mobile and location industry events. Her webinars on mobile applications and technologies draw audiences from more than 40 countries. Janice Partyka is also the founder of, a web service that helps college students find the right major that will lead to a satisfying career. Contact: Janice Partyka at, Free subscriptions to Wireless LBS Insider are available at

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