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OSX Cannot Show Your Location

Posted on 2016-08-23
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Last Modified: 2016-09-02
hi OSX folks

i would like to know how the heck the Maps app accurately determines my current location on OSX, based on my current public IP address, or my Wi-Fi AP (how?), or something else?

on Mac Pro Mid 2012, which in my understanding has no GPS chips equipped, can only accurately determines my location over Wi-Fi. if I open Maps while on wired connection, i got below message asking me to turn on my Wi-Fi, which ultimately goes to the internet through the SAME broadband connection as my wired interface. in other words, the two interfaces share the SAME public IP address.
Screen-Shot-2016-07-10-at-10.17.49.pngso what makes the difference? why has to be Wi-Fi?

thanks heaps,
bbao
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Question by:Bing CISM / CISSP
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by:Eoin OSullivan
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The short answer is IT DOESN'T

You've discovered a big fat old flaw in the whole OSX Maps app.  If the device doesn't have a GPS chip (which a Mac Pro clearly doesn't) then Apple have decided that WiFi is the next best thing.  The idea is that the WiFi network you are on may be logged by Apple and they can guess your approximate location based on that and the ISP that underlies the WiFi network.

Basically Apple have a huge database of public (and private) WiFi networks collected by devices which DO have gps chips.  When a GPS enabled device connects to a WiFi network I understand that it sends that info back to Apple.  If any non-GPS enabled mac connects to the same wifi network Apple can use the GPS location recorded before.

Without WiFi .. the ability to determine your location based on your Ethernet and public IP address is pretty much useless so Apple have decided to simply cripple the Maps application if you're only on an Ethernet connection.

That's the explanation .. the WiFi option isn't doing anything clever on your Mac Pro .. it is simply a restriction Apple put in the app to stop is working on an Ethernet connection as the location would be inaccurate.

Personally I'd prefer if the Maps application on OSX worked over Ethernet and simply allowed you to manually set and save your home location .. but Apple haven't trusted us mere mortals with that power!!
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by:Bing CISM / CISSP
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thanks for your reply and the speculation.

> Basically Apple have a huge database of public (and private) WiFi networks collected by devices which DO have gps chips.

so you mean Apple is maintaining a huge database of Wi-Fi APs of their users? therefore, probably OSX retrieves its current location by searching for the MAC address of currently connected AP from the database collected from GPS enabled devices?

i guess i need to check the privacy statement or terms and conditions of El Capitan to confirm this. where to get it after the OS has been installed? (a new question required?) you know most users simply click the Agree button to skip the EULA / Terms and Conditions page during OS installation. time to read it now. :)
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by:Bing CISM / CISSP
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this is from El Capitan's EULA obtained from here, very general with no details for what specific information to be sent for Location Services.

"Certain features like Diagnostics & Usage, Location Services, Dictation and Spotlight may require information from your computer to provide their respective functions. When you turn on or use these features, details will be provided regarding what information is sent to Apple and how the information may be used."

below is from Apple's Privacy Policy published here, a bit more specific information regarding how Location-Based Services collects users' information. it does mention "crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot".

"To provide location-based services on Apple products, Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device. Where available, location-based services may use GPS, Bluetooth, and your IP Address, along with crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower locations, and other technologies to determine your devices’ approximate location."

moreover, i found a similar discussion from here, though it is for iOS.

so i guess we are approaching the final answer, just a bit more specific OFFICIAL technical details to confirm our (users') speculation. i guess the info should be available in the SDK documents of OSX and/or iOS.
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by:Eoin OSullivan
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I think I've addressed the initial question about why Apple Maps needs WiFi to show your location and the basic principle of the Location Services.  I'd not expect Apple to explain EXACTLY how and what data they collect in the EULA for OSX and iOS but if you want to look through the Apple Developer documents and forums you can find a lot more info on how they collect data.

If you're concerned about it then don't enable location services as even over Ethernet they'll get your public ip and computer MAC address.  

Like I said the WiFi alert on Apple Maps is aimed at laptop users where it could be useful and it really has no relevance on most desktops as they cannot provide GPS or WiFi positioning in any reliable way.
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Bing CISM / CISSP earned 0 total points
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a bit more official details that i found from Apple website

Apple Q&A on Location Data
https://www.apple.com/au/pr/library/2011/04/27Apple-Q-A-on-Location-Data.html

i would like to confirm further if the Wi-Fi hotspot data referred in the Q&A is actually MAC address, SSID and coordinate (obtained from iOS devices) of user's AP. if not, what's that? as mentioned first in my question, i'd like to know how the heck it works. :)
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by:Eoin OSullivan
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Without wifi enabled on the iMac nothing happens!!
If you enable wifi the OS X will attempt to use xps methods to identify your location but as the iMac has no GPs chip it will be very limited. You've already found links which explain how OS X uses xps for location tracking.
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by:Kyle Santos
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We don't know what Apple does.  But getting that information is trivial.
eg
https://www.ultratools.com/tools/ipWhoisLookup
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by:Scott Fell, EE MVE
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No points just a link to apple information on this subject
https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204690
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by:Bing CISM / CISSP
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thanks so much for all the comments and explanations. a great help.
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