DNS requests to location.services.mozilla.com

I am seeing many DNS requests of my L5 to location.services.mozilla.com. I have firefox-esr not installed and no mozilla package installed. Is it the gnome gps thing?

Yes, ish. That is geoclue using WiFi for location services. I suggest disabling WiFi as a possible source of location (for privacy reasons).

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The thought came to mind. If wifi reveals location, does it reveal the location of the wifi or the location of the phone (within 20 meters)?

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If WiFi is used to determine location then the location of the WiFi (access point) is the same as the location of the phone (within, say, 100 metres maximum and usually much less) and the location of the WiFi (access point) is known to the server on the internet (in this case operated by Mozilla) - and the phone is also revealing its IP address to that server (although that is complicated in terms of how much is actually revealed and who can do something useful with the IP address).


Can’t we mitigate that and still use wifi? I turned off gps location under privacy in gnome menu and got not more those requests…

You can certainly get rid of those DNS requests, but there are still some significant privacy problems.

One thing is that as soon as you have WiFi turned on, I think it will communicate some kind of id number which is unique to the wifi hardware in your phone. I think you cannot turn that off or spoof it because the wifi firmware is closed-source, it will do whatever it does when it is on. (Of course there is also a similar issue with the cellular modem, but when you turn on WiFi you add one more such problem.)

Then there is the possibility that someone might know your location based on the WiFi access point’s location. I think the way it works is that a WiFi access point does not typically know its own location (after all, it can be moved) but it has an id number and there are databases, some of them public, with saved locations for access points. So if someone knows that you are connected to a certain wifi access point, then they can lookup the location in such a database. (That location can be very wrong if the access point has been moved, but often the location will be correct. Funny story about that: I was once on a boat trip where the boat had a wifi access point, then my phone at the time (not L5) showed my position as being in town because apparently that was the saved position of the boat’s access point, at the quay where the boat was most of the time)

I suppose that for someone to get your location in that way, they would have to get information about which access point you are connected to. If you connect to access points that you trust to not leak the fact that you connected there, then maybe you can avoid your location being revealed.

An example: let’s assume you have two houses some distance apart, and in each house you have a wifi access point that you trust because you set it up yourself. Also assume that the id of your phone’s wifi has been picked up earlier so it is known by whoever is trying to track you. Then if you use WiFi in unknown places your location can be revealed. But you could still use the WiFi access point in either of your own two houses, without revealing which house you are in.

All the above is just me rambling about how I think this works, could be wrong, I don’t know much about this stuff. Others who know more, please correct me.

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Thanks. I guess that explains why one shouldn’t access wifi in a combat zone.

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For the 4G modem firmware, hopefully we will have this for the L5 soon: Libre Firmware for Librem 5 Modem. · Issue #175 · the-modem-distro/pinephone_modem_sdk · GitHub
But the wifi firmware remains a blackbox, same thing for the pinephone.
About DNS requests, one can simply use a VPN, but then relying on some server’s service.

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What do you mean by this?

You can
a) turn off location services completely - maximum privacy but minimum functionality, or
b) enable location services but prevent location services from using WiFi for the purposes of finding the location of the phone (my recommendation) - in other words, with this option, location services would rely mostly on GNSS but may also use mobile tower locations

Other more exotic options if you choose to allow location services to use WiFi for the purposes of finding the location of the phone could be

  • use a different server that you trust more than Mozilla, or
  • operate your own server (while this might sound silly … if you are only interested in using WiFi to identify a small number of (indoor) locations that you regularly visit, it could be workable)

This isn’t quite right. In order to identify location using a WiFi Access Point, you don’t have to be associated with that WAP. The only requirement is that you receive the WAP’s beacon frame, so that you know the WAP’s “MAC address”, which you then transmit to the WiFi location server (Mozilla in this case) for it to transmit back the recorded location for that WAP - and that communication between your phone and the location server can take place over any viable internet connection (but perhaps most likely to be a mobile data connection, if not the WiFi itself).

In a high-WiFi-density urban environment, you should be able to identify your location almost continuously but without ever associating with any WAP (and indeed you wouldn’t have the passphrase to do so).

A WiFi location client could in principle look up the location of all the WAPs that are in range and then ignore an implausible result. In some cases that would deal with the “boat problem” - which I guess could also be a “train problem” if our colleagues can ever get the German railways sorted out :wink: - and could also be a “plane problem”, but really a problem with any WAP that has been relocated.

Note that a WiFi location client, in addition to getting information from the location server, can also send updates to the location server i.e. an unfriendly spyphone that has GNSS enabled and which detects the WAP could provide a more current location to the server.

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I mean how to use location without relying on mozilla’s services.

Then the answer is “yes” and you want option (b) unless you preferred either of the bullet point exotic options that I mention.

Refer /etc/geoclue/geoclue.conf for simply disabling the option of location services relying on WiFi for location.