Microsoft Maps WiFi For Alternative GPS System

Microsoft Maps WiFi For Alternative GPS SystemTrying to work out the law surrounding this Wi-Fi malarkey seems to be a tricky business.

As we reported earlier, it seems that walking around residential streets looking for a Wi-Fi connection is definitely A Very Bad Thing and liable to land you with a trouble.

But if you’re Microsoft, then you’re apparently free to dispatch cars all over US towns and suburbs to trawl for the signals sent out by the millions of short-range home and office WiFi networks.

Microsoft’s somewhat unexpected move – soon to be repeated in the UK and elsewhere – is part of a plan to create a ground-based location system as an alternative to the GPS satellite system.

Microsoft Maps WiFi For Alternative GPS SystemAccording to an article in the Financial Times, Microsoft says it has now built a database containing the whereabouts of “millions” of WiFi networks.

Naturally, privacy groups are more than a little concerned about Microsoft sniffing about the hedgerows and alcoves of private networks, but the company claims that it has collected only the unique identifier (MAC address) of each Wi-Fi network and that this cannot be traced to an address or an individual user.

Microsoft says that by recording the position of every MAC address on a giant map, it had created a positioning system that would make it possible for anyone with a WiFi-enabled laptop to flip out their machine and identify their location to within 30.5 metres.

We think location-based information and services are going to be huge and an alternative way of locating yourself without the need for GPS is welcome.

Where this WiFi-based locating will work particularly well is in cities where GPS doesn’t work too well, due to its signal being blocked by the tall buildings, and there a strong concentration of WiFi connections.

Microsoft tracks WiFi for new mapping system [FT]