HTML 5 Geolocation{12}


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 http://mobile.tutsplus.com/tutorials/mobile-web-apps/html5-geolocation/)

(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 Foursquare.com 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 amazon.co.uk. 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 http://eprints.ulster.ac.uk/20619/1/IJEF2011.pdf)

(The website, Amazon.com, 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.” (w3.org) Again, a consensus is needed before anyone can use Geolocation.

(Picture obtained from http://html5doctor.com/finding-your-position-with-geolocation/)

(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.

Resources

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

http://www.w3.org/TR/2011/WD-html5-diff-20110405/

* 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 http://eprints.ulster.ac.uk/20619/1/IJEF2011.pdf

* Delvin, Ian. (14/6/11). Finding your position with Geolocation. Html5doctor.com.  Retrieved

04/12/13 from http://html5doctor.com/finding-your-position-with-geolocation/

* Ionescu, Daniel. (29/03/2010). Geolocation 101: How It Works, the Apps, and Your Privacy. PCWorld.com. Retrieved 4/14/2013 from  http://www.pcworld.com/article/192803/geolo.html

* 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 http://www.ieee-security.org/TC/SP2012/papers/4681a413.pdf

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

Retrieved 04/12/13 from http://ezinearticles.com/?What-Is-Geolocation—Why-Should-I-Be-Interested?&id=6056063  

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

extras. Infoworld.com. Retrieved 04/12/13 from http://www.infoworld.com/d/html5/html5-in-the-web-browser-geolocation-javascript-and-html5-extras-398