Trying 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.
According 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.