You should probably know where you are. But in case you don't, you can now find out using Google Maps' new My Location service.
Google Maps users accessing the service through a computer can now find out where they are as easily as users of mobile phones.
On Thursday, Google updated Google Maps to include a new icon labeled My Location, which, as its name suggests, pinpoints the user's coordinates on the map.
"When you visit Google Maps with a supported Web browser, you'll see a new My Location button in the top left corner of the map. Simply click the button to center the map to your approximate location," explain software engineer Steve Block and product manager Noam Ben Haim in a blog post. "If your location can be determined accurately enough, it's shown with a blue circle, just like on Google Maps for Mobile."
Click the button a second time and the dot that designates your location will be removed.
Block and Ben Haim stress that Google takes privacy very seriously, no doubt to counter the perception promulgated by critics that Google treats privacy as an afterthought. They insist that your location will not be used without your permission.
However, Google's insistence that "Google Maps does not record your location in any way" doesn't tell the whole story. While Google Maps may not record a user's location, any online interaction with Google or any other Web service will reveal the user's IP address. And that may allow a user's location to be determined.
But really, there's far more sensitive data to worry about than where you are: Just posting your date and place of birth on Facebook could be enough for someone to predict your Social Security Number, for example.
Google Maps uses the W3C Geolocation API, which is supported in Firefox 3.5 and Google Chrome 2.0 and in other browsers with the help of the Gears plug-in. The Geolocation API tries to calculate the user's location using information about nearby Wi-Fi access points. If that information isn't available, it resorts to IP address information, which tends to be less accurate.
Google Maps put InformationWeek's San Francisco office in the middle of Second Street, about 100 yards northeast of where the office is actually located.
If you want to locate yourself with a high-degree of accuracy, even Google maps can't beat paying attention to your surroundings.
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