Google Trying To Deduce Wireless Location Info, Bypass Carriers

Last Updated Jan 29, 2010 11:14 AM EST

Marketers have considered wireless handset user location information to be gold. Knowing where people are helps target them more effectively, as well as develop services that might attract them. However, carriers have jealously guarded the knowledge of where users are, whether derived from GPS signals or from triangulating radio signals. But according to a patent application number 20100020776, Google (GOOG) has been working on methods of deducing locations based on packet analysis. This would give a company a route around carriers and the ability to make location information available to its own advertising customers.

The application, which looks at all forms of wireless, including cellular carrier networks, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, discusses estimating the locations of wireless access points (whether a Wi-Fi hot spot or a cellular tower), determining the accuracy of the locations, and then deducing the user's position based on these, for the purpose of location-based services.
In accordance with an embodiment of the present invention, a computer-implemented method of estimating the location of a wireless device is provided. The method comprises obtaining a packet of data transmitted from a first wireless device to a second wireless device; determining whether one of the first and second wireless devices is a wireless access point; determining the data rate of the transmitted data packet; if one of the first and second wireless devices is the wireless access point, then evaluating the determined data rate against a predetermined criterion; and assigning an estimated location to the wireless access point based upon the evaluation.
Google would be able to use packet information and network analytic methods to determine much of this. The trick would be to capture packets from the wireless devices. That becomes much easier if it's providing location-based services, meaning that consumers would be providing the packets by using the services. Or Google could presumably provide location information as a service to its advertising or marketing partners, which could provide the packets for analysis. This seems to be part of a bigger pattern in which Google clearly wants to operate at a level above the carriers, ending their roles as information gatekeepers and turning them into simple traffic operators.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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