We are all war drivers now

Skyhook is company here in Boston that sells geolocation services based off a database of Wifi locations.  For example, if your walking up my street your phone’s wifi reciever might notice one of my wifi hubs, it then queries the database to find out where you are.  Skyhook isn’t the only organization with a wifi device to location database, it’s just a commercial one.

The original such databases were assembled by volunteers.  The so called War Drivers, who’d drive around town with a GPS and Wifi reciever hooked up to some software.  There are good open or public databases for this kind of thing.  For example WiGLE.

Skyhook sells access to it’s database to folks in the PDA/Cellphone business.  So, presumably they consider it a valuable asset.    I’d assume they seeded their data from the public databases.  I’d love to read a case study of how Skyhook and the public community has managed flow of data between their database and the public ones.  That would be an interesting legal, licensing, ethical, standards story; with a nice subplot about how public goods are taken private by commercial entities and visa versa.  But all that’s not what this posting is about.

I was reading this bit of Skyhook press where in the Skyhook people are pushing the benefits of Wifi v.s. GPS and the CEO happens to say:

Skyhook employees and contractors “wardrive” down millions of miles of roads to correlate location (from GPS) with the signatures of Wi-Fi access points. Morgan said that Wi-Fi beacons are unique even when security is turned on, so that’s not a factor.

Another way that Skyhook keeps its data current is by using the information it gleans from Skyhook users. That’s right: When your iPhone geolocates itself it also sends Wi-Fi beacon data back to Skyhook, which helps keep the system’s location database current.

Ok, that means is that anybody who’s application has a large installed base on the iPhone (or other PDA/Phones) can draft that installed base as war drivers.  I don’t doubt that the Skyhook database is better than the open/public ones.  Given the above, I doubt that will be the case for long.  We are all war drivers now.

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