A New Policy for Mozilla Location Service

Several years ago we started a geolocation experiment called the Mozilla Location Service (MLS) to create a location service built on open-source software and powered through crowdsourced location data. MLS provides geolocation lookups based on publicly observable cell tower and WiFi access point information. MLS has served the public interest by providing location information to open-source operating systems, research projects, and developers.

Today Mozilla is announcing a policy change regarding MLS. Our new policy will impose limits on commercial use of MLS. Mozilla has not made this change by choice. Skyhook Holdings, Inc. contacted Mozilla some time ago and alleged that MLS infringed a number of its patents. We subsequently reached an agreement with Skyhook that avoids litigation. While the terms of the agreement are confidential, we can tell you that the agreement exists and that our MLS policy change relates to it. We can also confirm that this agreement does not change the privacy properties of our service: Skyhook does not receive location data from Mozilla or our users.

Our new policy preserves the public interest heart of the MLS project. Mozilla has never offered any commercial plans for MLS and had no intention to do so. Only a handful of entities have made use of MLS API Query keys for commercial ventures. Nevertheless, we regret having to impose new limits on MLS. Sometimes companies have to make difficult choices that balance the massive cost and uncertainty of patent litigation against other priorities.

Mozilla has long argued that patents can work to inhibit, rather than promote, innovation. We continue to believe that software development, and especially open-source software, is ill-served by the patent system. Mozilla endeavors to be a good citizen with respect to patents. We offer a free license to our own patents under the Mozilla Open Software Patent License Agreement. We will also continue our advocacy for a better patent system.

Under our new policy, all users of MLS API Query keys must apply.  Non-commercial users (such as academic, public interest, research, or open-source projects) can request an MLS API Query key capped at a daily usage limit of 100,000. This limit may be increased on request. Commercial users can request an MLS API Query key capped at a daily usage limit of 100,000. The daily limit cannot be increased for commercial uses and those keys will expire after 3 months. In effect, commercial use of MLS will now be of limited duration and restricted in volume.

Existing keys will expire on March 1, 2020. We encourage non-commercial users to re-apply for continued use of the service. Keys for a small number of commercial users that have been exceeding request limits will expire sooner. We will reach out to those users directly.

Location data and services are incredibly valuable in today’s connected world. We will continue to provide an open-source and privacy respecting location service in the public interest. You can help us crowdsource data by opting-in to the contribution option in our Android mobile browser.

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