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What’s Up With That, Google Maps?

Google rolled out an update to Google Maps the other week, couple new features I wrote about here but honestly nothing to write home about. But there was one thing about it that was obviously different though which I noticed later on, something not in the Google blog post or in the list of new features: Until you tell it to stop (or until you agree with its suggestion) Google Maps 4.6.0 will periodically, every now and then, suggest that it wouldn’t be a bad idea, in the interest of pinpointing your location quicker and more accurately, to fire up wifi.

That’s nothing new, not a secret that doing that helps get locations quickly and at least in dense areas more effectively than cellular triangulation, but now Google’s going a little out of their way to spread the news with these popups.

On the heals (in the midst rather) of Street Viewgate I cannot help but think that, in addition to helping everyone get a location fix faster, Google is also using people who do leave wifi running while using GPS, Google crowdsourcing, to gather wardriving data, possibly with Google Maps phoning home your position and the wifi access points within range each time it refreshes both sets of information.

If I’m right, I’m not saying that my privacy is being invaded were I to do this without being as smart as I am because obviously Google knows where you are when you’re using Google Maps. Also, crowdsourcing wardriving sounds like a pretty effective way to build the database which ultimately helps a lot of people in addition to Google than just driving conspicuous and controversial cars around once in a while. It also could help Google become less reliant on carriers (fine with me) and crush Skyhook. It’s not a huge amount of data in terms of draining battery by uploading SSIDs periodically so why wouldn’t my phone, with wifi on and a GPS fix running Google Maps, be reporting back to Google not just my position but a snapshot of the nearby SSIDs and signal strength? Sounds dumb of them not to do that and I always figured that’s what they had been doing well before this popup (though I’m not an engineer or a lawyer).

Maybe they haven’t been and aren’t doing this. Maybe the data’s too inaccurate to be helpful, maybe it’s too politically incendiary or maybe it’s illegal somewhere or might become illegal, perhaps first in Britain where the villagers have seized Google as their corporate punching bag (please stop that) to retaliate against us for beating up on BP for the whole oil catastrophe thing. But it sounds like something I’d suggest they do were no one else to have thought of it.

It doesn’t strike me as unethical or something incendiary that should freak out the privacy nuts too much but I’d just like to see this popup message, instead of just telling me that it would help be get a quicker fix, that it would also help them help everyone else get quicker fixes and a thank you. I get my GPS lock fast enough without wifi (for the first time in my life, after going Google – don’t get me started) but if I had a message like that but also confirming my theory here and offering me a thank you (yeah, to quote Travolta, a thank you would be nice) in the popup (there’s room for that), knowing that it would indeed make the world a better place I suppose I’d sacrifice some battery juice and flip on wifi when I use Google Maps or anything that uses GPS. Again though, I could be way off about this. Hell, it’s not impossible that I am in fact the first one to think of this idea, a brilliant one, and if that’s the case, hey Google, resume’s available upon request baby.

But seriously. What’s up with that?

Doug Simmons