Mozilla Location Services - what kind of help is needed?


(Kuba Orlik) #1

I really like the idea behind Mozilla Location Services. I’m thinking of a way to help that initiative. Are there some major problems with the database that could be solved in a crowd-sourced manner?

What I’m interested in particular is:

  • Is the amount of data in the database satisfactory?
  • Are there any regions that need more data badly?
  • Is Mozilla Stumbler the only source of data for the services?

(Daniele Scasciafratte) #2

I think that the project is abandoned from years…


(Kuba Orlik) #3

What makes you think that?


(Daniele Scasciafratte) #4

The app stumbler got the last update on december on github.
Wiki not updated from the last year: https://wiki.mozilla.org/CloudServices/Location
Last update of the app is of the last year https://f-droid.org/wiki/page/org.mozilla.mozstumbler#0.8.2

Also the project is not promoted anymore from years, in the period of Firefox OS was promoted but now is like stopped for this facts.


(Michal Stanke) #5

@hannosch , do you know, what is the current status of MLS? I have recently noticed the change in Mozilla Stumbler, that the measurements are attributed based on Firefox Account login. And the option to turn measurement on in Firefox for Android is still there. But as Daniele mentioned, no promotion for a long time…


(Hanno Schlichting) #6

MLS is alive and well, but it is partly a victim of its own success.

At this point there aren’t any major features missing from MLS and the client applications. While there is always room for improvements, by and large MLS has achieved what it set out to do and is working well.

It’s also true that after work on Firefox OS stopped, MLS is no longer an important strategic service for Mozilla, so the available staff working on it got reduced. I continue to work on it as a part time project, but that is focused on the service side, operations and general project management. There hasn’t been anyone working on the standalone Mozilla Stumbler app or the leaderboard service for a couple months now.

We also get most of our data from users using Firefox for Android and opt-ing into the contribution option in the mobile browser. The number of contributors from this are at least a hundred times more than the number of contributors using the standalone Mozilla Stumbler app. So the Mozilla Stumbler app and its leaderboard where always more of a hobby project.

Looking forward I think MLS will continue to exist and be maintained. There are enough people in upper management at Mozilla who like MLS and the general idea of it. But whether or not it will get more attention and focus again is anyone’s guess.


(Irvin) #7

We’re gathering data a hundred times fast, but do we still use data from it anymore? MLS is started to help Firefox OS and is it targeted to set as location service for Firefox in future with any timetable?


(Kuba Orlik) #8

Out of curiosity: how exactly does data gathering on Firefox for Android work? When does it gather location data?


(Hanno Schlichting) #9

Data gathering in Firefox for Android is optimized to have little battery cost and no mobile data plan usage. It sit and waits until other applications on the phone obtain GPS-based location information, for example Google Maps. The battery impact of using the GPS sensor is so large, that anything else you do at the same time is basically not noticeable. When some other application get a GPS based position, our data gathering code gets activated as well and initiates a scan for nearby cell and WiFi networks. Often enough the other application will have also caused those, as part of getting a location fix, so there’s almost no additional battery cost that can be attributed to our code.

Finally with the GPS position and the cell and WiFi networks in hand, our code stores those locally on the phone. There are also a variety of rate limits in place, so we don’t collect too often and not more than a certain amount per day.

Once the phone connects to a WiFi network, the locally stored data is uploaded to our service, avoiding mobile data plan costs.

The phone won’t collect more data, when it already has reached its total quota and wasn’t able to send data to us, so it won’t spam the local disk.

Currently there are no configuration options to change any of those default settings, as that would defeat the simple “opt-in and don’t worry” model we choose. If one wants more control, the dedicated Mozilla Stumbler app is there for you.


(Hanno Schlichting) #10

There’s an overview of several MLS related software projects at https://wiki.mozilla.org/CloudServices/Location/Software. Typical users of MLS are Linux desktop applications and operating system services (like Gnome/KDE) and over a hundred different small IoT prototypes and explorations. There is also a client for Android Google Play services replacement microG (https://github.com/microg/IchnaeaNlpBackend).

For Firefox specifically, MLS is used by default for Firefox Aurora/Nightly users and Firefox users on all channels for some Linux distribution provided packages (Fedora, ArchLinux, etc.).

The situation with Firefox Desktop release and beta channels is complicated, as it touches business contracts and isn’t merely decided based on technical merit. As a single user, everyone can switch from the default geolocation provider to MLS by adjusting the “geo.wifi.uri” preference in about config and changing it to “https://location.services.mozilla.com/v1/geolocate?key=%MOZILLA_API_KEY%”.


(Kuba Orlik) #11

This is so very thoughtfully designed!

So if I understood correctly, if I opt-in to location gathering in Firefox, there’s no need for me to use Mozilla Stumbler, right?


(Kuba Orlik) #12

That’s the thing I use - I love it, as it enables me to use navigation without sending data to Google (I run GAPPS-free cyanogenmod)!

Does it mean that Mozilla has a contract with Google to make this a default option? Effectively sharing location of many users with Google?


(Hanno Schlichting) #13

Yes, though there is no user id or token being sent to the service or any other identifying information. So on its own it’s hard to impossible to correlate multiple queries and assign them to the same user or connect that information to anything else about the user.

Firefox Desktop as shipped and distributed by Mozilla has used Google’s location service since the geolocation feature was introduced into the browser. I believe the same is true for Firefox distributed by Canonical (Ubuntu). This is stated fairly clearly in the privacy policy (https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/privacy/firefox/ - second “learn more” link, in the Location services section). Firefox for Android uses the Android Open Source API on the phone to get the users location. If and what service is called there depends on the device, but it’s safe to assume that this is also frequently Google. Firefox for iOS uses Apple’s location service.


(Irvin) #14

Great to know that there are some services still using MLS. Because we had a pretty bad reputation on closing services that with less usage, so it’s also a challenge for local communities to keep promoting it.


(Kuba Orlik) #15

Yes, I rely heavily on MLS and sometimes I am afraid it will end up as Persona did :<

It was this fear precisely that led me to create this topic