Google has enhanced its Google Gears Geolocation API (application programming interface) so that developers can build applications that can track the location of laptop users within 200 meters.

The new API builds on the initial version of the Geolocation API, which Google Gears developers can use to build web applications that locate mobile phone users. Google Gears is open source technology that allows developers to write web applications that can run offline.

Google said the applications built using the API can help users locate nearby hotels, and to allow a user's friends on social networks to see where he or she is.

"Today we are adding WiFi signals to the Geolocation API so that laptop users can benefit from location-enabled websites for the first time and mobile users from the increased accuracy," wrote Charles Wiles, Google mobile team product manager, in a blog post. "And because the Geolocation API is the same for developers in both desktop and mobile browsers, you can even use the same code on both platforms."

Developers using Google's Chrome browser and Android platform with Google Gears can build a location0enabled website that doesn't require users to install a plug-in, Wiles said. Developers using other browsers will need to go through a plug-in install process, he added.

He went on to note that Google submitted a simplified version of the Geolocation API as a World Wide Web Consortium (WC3) specification, and that the upcoming Firefox 3.1 release is slated to support the W3C version directly. The Gears Geolocation API can be downloaded without charge.

Google added that the Geolocation API server does not record user location, and that Gears users must grant permission for access to their location. "Gears will always tell a user when your site wants to access their location for the first time, and the user can either allow or deny your site permission," Google said. However, it added, "We recommend users check the privacy policy of your web site if they are in doubt as to how your site may use location information."

Glenn Fleishman, a blogger at Ars Technica, noted that although Gears prompts a web surfer to say whether he or she wants to reveal the location of their device, browser users should take additional steps to further protect their privacy.

"With more focus on location, users may need to make a concerted effort to rebuff attempts to find them when they choose to be left alone," Fleishman added. "The iPhone has a switch that allows location services to be turned off globally for users to avoid being asked whether their locations should be provided; that might soon be an important requirement for browser implementation, too."