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Geolocation in the Browser—From Google Gears to Geolocation Sensors

Anssi Kostiainen
Marijn Kruisselbrink


Geolocation is arguably one of the most powerful capabilities of smartphones, and a lot of attention has been paid to native applications that make use of it. The discontinued Google Gears plugin was the first approach to access exact location data on the Web as well, apart from coarse location lookups based on Internet Protocol (IP) addresses; and the plugin led directly to the now widely implemented Geolocation API. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Geolocation API specification defines a standard for accessing location services in the browser via JavaScript. Since the intent to deprecate the use of powerful features over insecure connections and a general demand for increased user privacy, the Geolocation API now requires a secure origin to work. For a long time, developers have also demanded more advanced features like background geolocation tracking and geofencing. The W3C Geolocation and the Devices and Sensors Working Groups, as well as the Web Incubator Community Group (WICG), have addressed these demands with the no longer maintained Geofencing API specification for the former, and, with now (early 2019) resumed efforts, the in-flight Geolocation Sensors specification for the latter two groups. This paper first provides a quick overview of the historical development of geolocation in the browser, and then gives an outlook on current and future efforts, challenges, and use cases.