Snow Leopard Is Location-Aware

core location

Shortly after installing Snow Leopard I saw the first evidence of the new location services built into the operating system. I got the new version of Clarke, a Fire Eagle updater. After the install a window appeared that asked me if I wanted to share my location with an application. Finally!

So how is Apple doing it? The same they do on the iPhone. Apple is determining your location via Skyhook Wireless’ wifi location service. It shares it via Core Location. Coca With Love has a great write-up on how to use the new features along with a sample app Where Is My Mac.

Apple is doing a good job of letting people know what sharing your location means. If you click on the help page (that purple question mark in the dialogue box) you get:

Some applications, such as System Preferences, use information about your current location to provide you with certain services and features. Your location is approximated using data from nearby Wi-Fi networks.

Information about your location is collected in a manner that doesn’t personally identify you. The information is not combined with other information about you, and is used only by the applications you authorize to obtain it. This feature is not available in all areas.

To authorize an application to use your location information, click OK. If you don’t want to authorize the use of location information, click Don’t Allow.

Unfortunately, Snow Leopard dos not give the user the ability to remove access to my location. Once i give an application permission there is no way that I can remove it. This needs to be a system setting. However, it is a step ahead of Windows 7’s upcoming location features. At least the user is warned. Once you turn on location in Windows 7 any application can access that information at any time with no warning.

time pref location mac

Currently Snow Leopard is only using it to determine your timezone. You can imagine in the future further integration with services like MobileMe (Find My iPhone gets a sibling Find My Mac). In time there will be updates to the Mac line with hardware GPSs. Just as location has become oxygen for iPhone developers (according to Skyhook’s research there are over 3,000 location-aware apps in the App Store) it will start to be added to many Mac apps — I suspect Evernote, Omnifocus and the Twitter client du jour will be among the first to match their iPhone clients.

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  • Although applications like Clarke have to ask to use your location, I believe System Preferences queries your location without bothering to ask permission first.

    Also, though I agree that Windows 7’s on-for-everyone permissions is worrisome, it’s worth noting that Win7 does provide notification when your location is being queried (an icon appears in the task bar) — Snow Leopard doesn’t let the user know when or how often Clarke (or the OS) is obtaining my location. Also, Win7 provides a log of which applications accessed your location when, a feature I haven’t yet found in Snow Leopard.

  • You can disable Location Services entirely in the Security system preference pane, as well as reset all the warnings (which presumably would then prompt you to re-authorize any applications that use it).

  • Looking at the source code, it appears that it is not actually using Snow Leopard’s built-in Core Location service (as is found in the iPhone), but is instead directly talking to SkyHook.

    Maybe for Leopard compatibility?

  • According to the project page, Clarke does use Core Location when on 10.6 and uses Skyhook directly on older versions of the OS. (FirehookApplicationDelegate.m seems to confirm that.)

  • Dan, I’m the author of Clarke and I can assure you that it does use Core Location on Snow Leopard. It switches between CL and Skyhook depending on the OS version detected.