Google may have blocked Android handset maker Motorola from using WiFi hotspot location data from Skyhook Wireless because it wanted to build a quality database of crowd-sourced location data, just as Apple’s been doing since iOS 4 was released, reveals an internal email correspondence leaked to The San Jose Mercury News. The email message reveals that Google CEO Larry Page asked for a clarification from Android chief Andy Rubin over the news that Motorola was planning on tapping Skyhook data to help their phones quickly determine geographical location. Steve Lee, Google’s location product manager, responded:
I cannot stress enough how important Google’s wifi location database is to our Android and mobile product strategy. We absolutely do care about this (decision by Motorola) because we need WiFi data collection in order to maintain and improve our WiFi location service.
Unlike iOS that requires iOS apps to go through location APIs, open sourced Android software can be adapted to handset makers’ needs, which includes using third-party services for geolocation. The alleged email correspondence suggests the Street View privacy concerns related to unintentional gathering of WiFi hotspot data may have put Google in a position where they rely heavily on Android phones to crowd-source a database of nearby wireless hotspots.
This database helps handsets rapidly pinpoint their location compared to tapping GPS satellite data, which taxes battery and can take up to a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, the iPhone location tracking PR fiasco has quickly spilled over to Google, earning the search company a $50 million lawsuit. As Wired reported, a class action lawsuit has been filed in Detroit last Wednesday, centered around the Android location tracking issue.