Geolocation: An Introduction

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Geolocation is a popular technology that involves location and web-based functions. It is the wireless detection of the physical location of a remote device. As a noun, geolocation refers to the object's geographic location in real-time; or in other words, where the object is right now. As a verb, the term refers to the process of detecting that location. People can easily discover the location of their friends if their friend has "checked-in" to a site through a mobile applications that has geolocation features embedded.[1].


The Evolution of Geolocation


Contents

Ways to Find Geolocation

Geolocation utilizes software with physical location variables. These variables can come from signals of: Internet Protocol(IP) addresses, Machine Access Controls (MAC), Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and Multilaterations.

IP address and MAC address

An IP address is given to every device on a network. All devices that uses Internet Protocol for communication (e.g., computer, printer) participate in a computer network and is assigned a numerical label.[1].

MAC address is best thought of as a unique serial number assigned to every network interface on every device. No two network cards anywhere should have the same MAC address[2].

RFID

RFID is a technology that can track or identify a product, animal, or person by attaching an RFID tag to the object.[3]. RFID tags are electronic devices that can be tracked by through the radio waves the tag emits, the radio waves can be read from meters away.

GPS

HTML5 Geolocation, a book written by Anthony T. Holdener III

GPS can provide information on an object’s location in real time by using Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) in space[4]. It is built by the United States government, and anyone on Earth with a GPS receiver, for example, your smartphone, can use it for free. However, there are some limitations for military issues. GPS is more accurate compared to Multilateration (cellular network tower distance estimation) because it precisely passes down the longitude and latitude number.

Multilateration

Geolocation of people can be determined through a mobile phone. The technique used is called Multilateration[5]. Multilateration means cellular network tower distance estimation. It detects surrounding cellular tower and calculates the location based on the relative distance between the towers. Actions performed using a mobile phone, such as: pictures taken, SMS sent, or status updates to Facebook, automatically save the history of the geolocation at the time the action was performed.

Growth of Geolocation

According to HTML5 Geolocation, a book written by Anthony T Holdener III, the launch of Foursquare contributed to the popularity of Geolocation. Foursquare was launched in 2009, by creators Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai.[6] It allows people to check-in to different places using their smartphones to earn points and badges. This information is shared with friends and therefore has a social aspect. Other social media applications quickly followed by adding a geolocation feature. Holdener III referred to the year of 2010 as “the year of check-in” and the “year of geolocation.” Moreover, 2011 is being referred to as “the mobile revolution,” whith more mashup applications being built; for example, social media and geolocation features.

Social Applications

Geolocation-based social networking applications have been becoming a trend since 2008. Currently the space is being dominated by Facebook and Foursquare, with others like Gowalla and MyTown trailing in its wake. These location-based social networking apps are available on all cellphone platforms and thus make it attractive to many users. The diverse types of location-based apps is also one of the reasons why social applications of geolocation are so popular. Here are some of the examples.

Applications in Social Networking

Following are some of the social networking mobile applications with geolocation feature embedded in them.

Foursquare, Gowalla

Gowalla

Foursquare and Gowalla are two popular location-based social networking apps for smart phones. People can “check-in” to update their current locations with friends or find friends by checking their latest check-in. After people check-in into a location, they can post pictures, leave comments and tips. Each check-in or comment post awards them with points and/or “badges”. Moreover, users can also check out review or comments provided by other users, and find recommendations from a specific area.

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Sonar

Sonar

Sonar is a newly launched “check-in” app stood out from the other location-based social networking apps. When users check in a location, it shows who is there, and most importantly, it tells you certain people who may be relevant to you since you share common twitter or facebook friends. Moreover, it also helps you to introduce yourself to strangers who are somehow connected to you[1]. You might discover hidden connections by using this application.

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Local Mind

Localmind

Local Mind is another location-based mobile application about what is going on in real-time at places you care about. It allows you to send questions and receive answers , so you know what is happening at every moment. For example, you can find out how crowded the bar is, what specials there are at the restaurants you like, or whether the coffee shop's WIFI is up.

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Applications in Others

BlueBrain - Central Park - Listen to the Light

Lab, MyTown, and Listen to the Light are also mobile applications that integrate geolocation feature in them, however, they are not social networking based.

Lab

Lab is an application which you can check information of pictures taken with an iPhone. When you take a photo on your smartphone, the location date will automatically be saved in the photo. It is useful when you want to check the location of the photo or the histogram of it.

MyTown

MyTown is an application that uses the local restaurants, shops, and buildings around the customer to build a virtual world. So when people check-in into the real world places, they can earn points or to level-up. The points can be traded to buy their favourite restaurants or shops in the virtual mobile world.

Listen to the Light

Central Park, NY: Listen to the Light, released by a Washington band called the Bluebrain, is a location-based music app specific for New York’s Central Park. The app uses geolocation software to compose site-specific music. The music app uses the GPS in a smartphone to identify the listener’s coordinates, and to trigger a short piece of music inspired by their location. As the listener walks around the central park, the music changes, - the melody could be generally the same, but the piece may begin incorporating different instrument, different volume levels and other variations. As the listener moves to other areas of the park, the melodies may change completely[1].

Business Applications

Less “Flashy” uses

There are several business applications of geolocation technology. A few uses are introduced here that do not involve social networking applications.

Gather accurate location information

  • This is especially useful and important for remote locations
  • For example Geolocation allows a location to be attached to areas that do not have an address, such as off shore oil wells
  • A Geolocation point will never change, where as an address can (for example, if a street is renamed)

Data Mining

  • Geocoded address points allows a user to mine through location data and discovery patterns, such as hot spots of activity
  • Data is more easily sorted and filtered when using geographic boundaries

E-Commerce

  • Geolocation can help simplify the user experience
  • For example, an online store can pre-populate shipping and billing address information by using IP address information

The Flashy Side

Foursquare

The following are some examples of how businesses are using social networking platforms, as well other applications that use geolocation.

Geomarketing

  • Especially useful for small businesses and start-ups
  • Generally a free or inexpensive way to generate awareness and interest about a business
  • GPS services such as Garmin or TomTom provides static content, where as social geolacation content is real time
  • It becomes focused on the conversation among customers and the business


Business Use of Foursquare

FourSquare is helping companies attract new customers. Users who are browsing nearby FourSquare locations may spot a local business nearby. Local business can offer perks for customers who “check-in”. Also, mayors can be awarded exclusive discounts or rewards. FourSquare users may visit a business more frequently in order to unlock badges or become the mayor. FourSquare location managers can look up analytics as to how many check-ins they had and at what time. This increases their awareness about their customer base. With this information a location manager can see when the busiest and slowest times are[2].

Business Use of Groupon Now

Popularity of Groupon

Groupon Now: Groupon-Now uses the Geolocation to allow groupon users who are looking for an item, event, or service, to be matched with businesses that are in surplus of that specific item. The mobile groupon app uses the Geolocation of the business and user of the application to point out nearby deals. Business owners are able to setup deals whenever they wish and are able to decide how long the deal is available for. By using Geolocation business are able to gain the attention of all nearby Groupon users[3].

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A New Idea by New Balance

This contest New Balance created gives an idea as to the many ways geolocation can be used to help with the marketing side of business.

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Privacy Concerns

Geolocation and Privacy: Are We Going the Right Way?

Geotagging: Are You Putting Your Safety at Risk via Smartphone?

Geomatics, geospatial technology or geomatics engineering, is the discipline of: gathering, storing, processing, and delivering geographic information or spatially referenced information[1]. Many businesses have been involved with geomatics with their consumers for many years. Things such as addresses and postal codes have been gathered and stored in many different servers within an enterprise. Some companies even collect geolocation data without even knowing it, such as security cameras, red light cameras, even debit and credit card transactions discloses an individual’s location at a given time. The concerning aspect of this for consumers is that often times consumers have no control over who collects this data.

As of August 2011, there were nine bills being considered in the United States regarding geolocation privacy. Defining what is considered ‘personally identifiable information’ with geolocation is a hot topic. It is much more difficult to define than other types of sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, addresses, social security numbers or medical records. When is our geolocation information considered compromised? A few feet within your location or within your postal code region. There are many issues that must be addressed by lawmakers regarding geomatics such as using the technology to stalk someone or hackers collecting and exploiting geolocation information to commit identity theft must be addressed. However, that being said, geolocation and geospatial technology is still in its early growth stages and will contribute greatly to economic growth. The right kind of governance is needed without premature regulations of geospatial technology that will limit its growth, perhaps changing the criminal code to address geolocation stalking and requiring companies to take steps to secure geolocation information.

Real cases: Violation of Privacy on Phone

  • Apple iPhone/iPad: A hidden Apple iOS file that documents the location of products running the operating system has prompted a lawsuit and a motion by plaintiffs who are seeking a court order to bar further collection of location data. The stealth iOS file records geolocation information derived from triangulating the location of a device using the signals from the closest cell phone transmission towers and Wi-Fi access points. The data is continuously collected and recorded regardless of whether the user has chosen to disable location services features on their mobile device or not. Apple issued iOS 4.3.3 software update to handle the problem.[2]
  • Android: Google faces a $50 million lawsuit over Android location tracking. Google asks users' permission to enable the tracking software, unlike Apple, Android does not only store the location data, it also sends the data back to Google. Both utilize the geodata in order to be more accurate in locating nearby WiFi and cellular signals, especially Android.[3]
  • Windows Phone 7: A similar case happened a few months after the Android case.[4]


Given all of the tracking concerns spawning in just two months, U.S. lawmakers accused the technology industry of exploiting geolocation abilities, which is a potential multibillion-dollar industry, without consumer authorization. Indeed, with GPS and location tracking services, movement and lives are becoming less and less private, and it is becoming easier to make or break alibis.


Apple iPadApple iPhone 4Android Windows Phone 7

How to protect yourself from geotagging?

How to Disable Mobile Geotagging

For your phone, check to see that "include location (GPS) information in pictures you take" is set to OFF.

  • Turn the geotagging feature off: This is the most straightforward solution. You can find out how to do this for most phones at www.icanstalku.com, which is a website created to spread awareness regarding the privacy issues surrounding geotagging.
  • Download disabling software: With all of the information coming and going from our phones these days it would be nice to know that someone is looking out to be sure you do not send out the wrong information. You can download software onto your smartphone that will search for geotagging information and delete it before sending.
  • Be aware and educate yourself and others: Be sure that you understand what information you are sharing and stay up to date with the products you use that use geotagging information.
  • Watch what you post: You should always think twice, if not three times, about anything you put on the internet. Once something is on the internet, it can be assumed it will be there forever. Be sure you are very comfortable with the information that is made available.

Concerns for Enterprise

Collecting and using geolocation data pose risks to enterprises, including:

  • Privacy: Multiple entities have access to geo-tagging data, including service providers and wireless access developers. Users cannot always identify the source or owner of their location data.
  • Reputation: Enterprises risk their brand/reputation, when security breaches occur.
  • Compromise: Secret locations and remote facilities/prototypes can be identified.


Enterprise tips:

  • Implement safeguards, leverage COBIT for policy development.
  • Update the security of device operating systems and software.
  • Make sensitive data (personal, financial, confidential) unreadable or inaccessible.
  • Respect differing global privacy regulations.
  • Implement a risk management policy that identifies where geolocation services add value.

References

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