HTML 5 Geolocation

by David F

HTML 5 Geolocation

            Need help finding a restaurant? What if someone is lost and they need to get their bearings straight? Getting lost is never fun, but with Geolocation convenience is literally at the palm of their hands. With some simple swipes on a smartphone, a user may never get lost ever again, provided that worst case scenarios such as losing their phone or having poor connections doesn’t happen of course. In this blog, I will explain what Geolocation is, the benefits of using Geolocation, how it can help businesses, and what businesses use Geolocation; I will also discuss some concerns associated with the software.

The Geolocation API was developed by W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) rather than by WHATWG (Web Hypertext application Technology Working Group). Geolocation is the process of automatically identifying a user’s physical location, without the user having to provide any information. (Curran, 2011) All a user would have to do is give permission to disclose their location. Geolocation is a new trend in web development, but why is it important? “The Geolocation API provides a method to locate the user’s exact position” (Devlin, 2011). It’s essentially a type of positioning system, but it’s also more than that. The difference between Geolocation and other positioning systems, like the GPS (Global Positioning System), is that Geolocation is more precise.  When I say precise I mean PRECISE. Along with the location’s address, Geolocation also provides users with ISP, Longitude, Latitude and even Time Zones. This will help in providing users locations of areas they wish to visit or if they want to find out where they are themselves. The Geolocation API is currently supported by Chrome 5.0+, Firefox 3.5+, Internet Explorer 9.0+, Opera 10.60+, and Safari 5.0+. The API also supports mobile devices such as Android 2.0+, iPhone 3.0+, etc. As mentioned before, one of the big pros of the Geolocation API is that users may use the application on their phones. They can, let’s say, use it as a map or a GPS. All smart phones should come with some sort of ‘map’ app pre-installed. Here’s an example of a phone using Geolocation:

(Picture obtained from

(Please drive responsibly and do not text while driving.)

               The Geolocation API uses JavaScript and is relatively simple to code. The two main functions of the API are ‘getCurrentPosition’ and ‘watchPosition’, “the first finds the position and the second wraps a loop around the process, generating an event only if there’s a change” (Wayner, 2011). The process is pretty straight forward. How the information is actually retrieved lies in the browser/phone. If the browser is updated to the versions I mentioned above than the information is received from the internet. For smartphones a GPS chip is installed inside, this is used to collect satellite data to calculate the user’s position. Even if the skies are not clear, phones can gather information from cell towers, this puts phones in an advantage over GPS units when it cannot gather data from satellites. (Ionescu, 2010). And, if all else fails, the API will generate a ‘POSITION_UNAVAILABLE’ to the user.

Ever since it’s conception, the Geolocation API has worked its way into business and social networking. In 2010, the craze of ‘location finding’ exploded. As such, businesses should jump on the chance to use the new technology. Here are a few examples on how businesses can use Geolocation to its benefit:

  • Geolocation can help with trends. A company may keep an eye out on where consumers are going and what they are doing.
  • This also work’s vice-versa. A company may share what it’s currently doing and may encourage viewers to join them. If it’s for a news channel, a reporter may ask viewers what questions he/she should ask.
  • Companies may use Geolocation as a way of promoting. Did a new store open up? Maybe the newest tech was just released there.
  • Geolocation can be used to offer specials and discounts along with the promotions. Websites such as provided businesses with tools to attract customers by offering great deals.

These examples I provided are just some of the ways Geolocation can be implemented. There are already long standing businesses that have made use of the ideas I mentioned.

Perhaps the most well-known company to make use of Geolocation is Facebook. Users of Facebook may add a news-feed to show where their current location is. Found a new hangout spot and want to share that with friends? Post a news-feed about it and share its location! Over 500 million users have Geolocation in their news-feeds (Plunkett, 2010).

(Pictured obtained from Facebook)

(Here is an example of a news-feed using geolocation. If the user wishes to do so, he/she can disclose where they currently are and who they are with.)

Amazon uses Geolocation as well. Amazon uses Geolocation in a way to ensure users are shopping in the correct region. If a user is shopping from the UK, Geolocation will pinpoint the user’s IP address, thus forwarding him/her to How it works is that “Geolocation service providers build massive databases that link each IP address to a specific location.” (Curran, 2011) This helps Amazon provide the best possible service available.

(Picture obtained from

(The website,, has recognized the user is from the UK, therefore it’ll help with redirecting the user to the appropriate site.)

I have spoken a lot of Geolocation and its benefits, but there are concerns over its use. One of the concerns is privacy.

There are privacy considerations for implementers and recipients. Privacy is always a concern amongst the people. That is why permission is needed if information is to be disclosed. From the W3C website, the authors explain that “A conforming implementation of this specification must provide a mechanism that protects the user’s privacy and this mechanism should ensure that no location information is made available through this API without the user’s express permission.” ( Again, a consensus is needed before anyone can use Geolocation.

(Picture obtained from

(A prompt asks the user for permission to display the user’s location)

Another fear of using tracking software is the issue of third party web tracking. With Geolocation, not only can a user’s address be displayed but their IP address as well. There may be concerns that companies that obtain a user’s information may sell it off. But such concerns should be waved off. Jonathan R. Mayer and John C. Mitchell, researchers for Stanford University explains that “Paid analytics services usually promise by contract to make no use of the data they collect except as directed by their clients, and they impose internal business controls to ensure each client’s data remains segregated.” (Mayer, 2012). This means that users’ information is kept secret and is not used for any gain.

Another minor con, based off of my experience, is that the Geolocation API needs Adobe Acrobat to be updated. Not a big complaint but more of a minor annoyance if, let’s say, an admin is needed to give updates, and the user is a guest with no authority.

In conclusion, Geolocation is a very useful and powerful tool. Businesses can make strong relations with their customers if used correctly. Social networking sites such as Tweeter and Facebook has increased user’s interactions within their environments. Online companies, such as Amazon, benefit strongly with Geolocation, as it sorts out user’s IP addresses to ensure products and currency are consistent within the region. Fears on privacy and third party web tracing should be put to rest as there are measures to prevent stolen information. From how I see it, Geolocation is the future of position tracking technology; it’s easy to use and is compatible with nearly all mainstream browsers and phones. With this new technology, hopefully, no one will ever get lost ever again.


* (w3). (2011). HTML 5 differences from HTML 4. W3C. Retrieved 04/12/13 from

* Curran, Kevin, Jonathan Orr. (2011). Integrating geolocation into electronic finance

applications for additional security. Int. J. Electonic Finance, Vol. 5 No.3. Retrieved 04/12/13 from

* Delvin, Ian. (14/6/11). Finding your position with Geolocation.  Retrieved

04/12/13 from

* Ionescu, Daniel. (29/03/2010). Geolocation 101: How It Works, the Apps, and Your Privacy. Retrieved 4/14/2013 from

* Mayar, Jonathan R, Mayer, John C. (2012). Mitchell Third-Party Web Tracking: Policy and

Technology. 2012  IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy. Retrieved 04/12/13 from

* Plunkett, Mark. (2010). What Is Geolocation – Why Should I Be Interested?

Retrieved 04/12/13 from—Why-Should-I-Be-Interested?&id=6056063  

* Wayner, Peter. (23/03/2011). HTML5 in the Web browser: Geolocation, JavaScript, and HTML5

extras. Retrieved 04/12/13 from



12 thoughts on “HTML 5 Geolocation

  • April 15, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    I personally believe that this is a great feature. especially when connected to a camera as it easily helps you map and sort where you have been. However, watching the news the other night, they were actually complaining about this as it may give the world to much access to your where abouts as your location is always tied to something. Do you personally feel tho by having this technology out ways the concerns of a few or that giving this type of power to google and other big fortune 500 companies can drastically affect are future?

    • April 18, 2013 at 7:37 pm

      I don’t really see this as much of a concern. Users still have to give consensus before they may disclose their location. They simply have to be careful how they go about it. I believe the usefulness outweigh the negatives because so much has already been done through Geolocation, as I mentioned in my talk about Facebook and Amazon. Geolocation is a very useful tool and only time will tell what other creative ways companies can implement this API. Yes, privacy is a major concern; companies may have to pump out stricter regulations regarding its use, maybe even adding a disclaimer about the risks involved.
      I hope I answered your question; I’m fairly new to this subject, so I may not understand all of its good and bad points.

  • April 15, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    Excellent post and presentation. I have a question: Do you know what Geolocation bases its location discovery on? As we saw in class, it estimates your location based on IP, but, for example: on a smartphone, is there a proprietary service by the cellphone service provider that uses triangulation based on cellphone towers, or is it a GPS-augmented service or something even more magical?

    • April 18, 2013 at 7:37 pm

      Thank you Brent for the compliment! That’s a good question. As I said in my presentation, smartphones are now installed with GPS chips so it may receive signals from satellites. The cell Towers I was talking about may work as a backup, in case signals are fuzzy. Either way, both methods work great. I hope that answered your question!

  • April 16, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    Amazing blog. Technology has come a long way and this is one really great feature to stay connected on the internet. Geolocation is the way of our future as it will continue to grow and develop. I wonder if our government will actually use Geolocation to find criminals in a way that would actually be legal. Since, people are already being arrested for posting videos of their illegal actions on YouTube. I would assume something similar will happen. Because people will leave some type of paper trail and be caught doing so. Again, great blog. What you think will happen to Geolocation within the next 5 to 10 years? Especially with how fast technology is constantly evolving.

    • April 18, 2013 at 7:38 pm

      Thank you Ron for the compliments! Actually I do believe the government, or rather the FBI and law enforcement, will make use of Geolocation if they haven’t already. For example, the FBI has a website that uses Google maps to capture the location of bank robbers. The site displays the criminal’s physical descriptions, along with locations and other clues. I will provide a link to it:
      Geolocation is a powerful tool and I’m sure the government is already using it in some legal way.
      To your second question, I believe augmented reality will be prominent in the future. Companies, such as Layar, are focusing on mobile augmented reality. The ideas they came up with are really cool. Using Geolocation based AR on a user’s smartphone may provide a ‘heads up’ display of points of interests, compasses, and other sensors. So by simply scanning an area, information will pop out for that location. It’s a really cool idea and I’ll provide a link for it:

  • April 20, 2013 at 10:55 pm

    I really enjoyed your blog and presentation. I am now curious to find out how other products will utilize geolocations (Google Glass?). However, I definitely do see a downside to using geolocations. I once was a user of Google Latitude which runs in conjunction to Google Maps. It allows you to share your information and location with friends and family. As you can imagine, It got creepy really fast when my mother became a user and tracked my every location!

    • April 21, 2013 at 6:38 pm

      Thank you Emily! I’d imagine Geolocation would definitely be incorporated into Google Glass at some point, if it isn’t already being built in. Yes there are downsides, like I stated in my blog, but what you bring up sounds interesting. I’m sure many parents would love the idea of tracking their children, teenagers may not like it but for kids ages 5-12 it might be really helpful.

  • April 24, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    Very well written blog. You mentioned really good info about Geolocation. I am a person who uses her phone a lot to do local searches and find addresses. I wasn’t aware that Amazon uses Geolocation and I always wonder how some websites which have branches in different countries can take you to the correct county and location? I also agree with Emily about loosing privacy. I think with this technology people are giving too much information to other people and 3d parties. I think there is nor more privacy going on but however, I am very agree that sharing location can be very useful in danger situations.

  • June 3, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    Geolocation is a curse and a blessing! It makes it easy to find unfamiliar places but I’ve started relying on it so often that I never actually learn my way around. I fear the day that my gps is unavailable! Seriously though your article made me realize how much I take geolocation for granted.

  • June 4, 2013 at 11:44 am

    Geolocation is something that has already been implemented and is widely used today, but it was really cool seeing examples of how it’s being further integrated into our lives to be more convenient and useful, such as the example with tracking the locations of various buses around a city. It does bring up some privacy concerns, but I’m sure that technology will advance so that those can be addressed in the future. One thing that would have been nice to see on your blog would be showing examples comparing the accuracy between phones and location via a network you are connected to.

  • June 8, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    This was a really well written article. It explained so much about how websites know where i am, that I had always wanted to know but never looked up. But I am curious if there are instances where this technology is used in very subtle ways that do not seem intrusive or creepy. Because this would bring a wealth of knowledge in a non intrusive way.

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