By Harry McCracken | Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 1:44 pm
One of the nifty new features that debuted in Firefox 3.5 last week was support for the W3C Geolocation API Specification, a Web standard that can fake a GPS-like effect by using clues such as the Wi-Fi networks you’re near to figure out your location. The only problem was that the standard isn’t yet widely supported by the Web sites and services that could benefit from it.
Chicken, meet egg: Today, Google updated Google Maps to take advantage of Geolocation. Click on a circle on a map, and Maps will do its best to determine where you are, saving you the time of typing in an address. (I almost never use hotel-room phones anymore, but still find them invaluable because they’re usually labeled with the hotel’s street address.)
The Geolocation API isn’t perfect–if it can’t use Wi-Fi to track you down, it’ll try using your IP address, which is always imprecise and sometimes just plain wrong. And it will sometimes just give up altogether. But I just tried it, and it figured out exactly where I am right now (at a conference center in the Marin Headlands attending a Symantec workshop, in case you care):
Privacy purists take note: You need to explicitly enable geolocation before it works and can undo it, and Google says it’ll never track you down without your permission.
The new feature works natively in Firefox 3.5 and Chrome 2.0, and can be added via Google Gears to other browsers–which means that you should be able to use it in just about any browser you’re likely to use.