Location Aware: Smart Rollout for Yahoo! Fire Eagle

I’ve got serious reservations about applications that track my physical location, but Yahoo! made an impressive beta launch of its Fire Eagle service today that does just that. Fire Eagle is a platform that will allow other applications to incorporate location awareness into what they do.

The first two apps to engage with Fire Eagle is Dopplr, the super-hip social-travel app, and Danger Day, a service for updating your location on Twitter. Others are ramping up quickly, though Fire Eagle is still invite-only. We’ve got invite URLs posted at the end of this post, knock yourselves out. The Yahoo! Group for developers interested in Fire Eagle is here.

“Fire Eagle is the secure and stylish way to share your location with sites and services online while giving you unprecedented control over your data and privacy,” the site says. “We’re here to make the whole web respond to your location and help you to discover more about the world around you.” There’s not much that can be done with Fire Eagle yet, but I’m optimistic about the platform for a number of reasons.

First, Yahoo! put privacy right out front. Many people want their data to be portable from service to service and many people want that to include their location data from mobile or other interfaces. I personally don’t want my location broadcast automatically, at all, to anyone thank you very much. Fire Eagle has privacy and user control of data written all over it.

Users have the option to hide themselves with a single click, they can click to purge all their data from the Fire Eagle databases, the service even lets you select how often you’d like to receive an email reminding you that it is tracking your location as asking you to confirm that you want tracking to continue. By default you’re emailed once a month for consent to be reconfirmed! Hello trust building measures! It’s almost enough to make me interested in exposing my location, selectively.

Second, the way Yahoo! is developing its Platform is great. It’s offering API kits in five different programming languages, it’s got user authorization protocols already available for web, desktop and mobile apps and it’s using the open standards community built oAuth to facilitate faster, more secure mashups. We wrote about oAuth’s launch here and Google is also using it extensively in OpenSocial. This aint no cry-baby do it my way or I’m taking my ball and going home framework like the Facebook platform. This is leveraging universal open standards.

Standards based platform plus strong privacy equals the best scenario I can imagine for a location tracking service. We’ll see what kinds of innovative applications get built on top of it.


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