Yahoo Location Reporting Fire Eagle – Useful Service or Potential Problem

Yahoo Location Reporting Fire Eagle – Useful Service or Potential Problem

Fire Eagle LogoIf you are not familiar with the experimental geolocation platform Yahoo was developing, then you can experience the real thing, since Fire Eagle has now been released to the web.

What is Fire Eagle, you ask? Basically Fire Eagle is a personal location storage mechanism that other systems across the web can tap in to in order to see where you are and where you have been.  These systems can then offer you services based on your location.  At least that is the theory – the part called "service".  Having your location information publicly available potentially exposes you to all kinds of intrusive advertising as well as potential real physical threats – especially if you give away too much information, such as the fact that you are alone, without protection, and you have something valuable on your person.

Now, Fire Eagle is claiming that it has a variable privacy feature, which limits what information it releases, such as the city instead of an address.  You can also limit what groups get more detailed information, and there is even a "hide me" button that stops location reporting for a period of time.  (Conspiracy theorists in the crowd should take note that it says it stops the "reporting", not the "collecting", of information).

But Social networking is huge, and the companies are lining up to take advantage of the service, hoping that it will sway users by sizable numbers.  Companies that are using or planning to use the service include: 

  • Pownce
  • Twinkle
  • Movable Type
  • Outside.In
  • Brightkite
  • Dash
  • Dipity
  • Dopplr
  • ekit
  • Lightpole
  • Navizon
  • Loki
  • Outalot
  • Plazes
  • Spot
  • ZKout

The major social networks, Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, have not as of this writing committed to using the new service, but it could be a matter of time before they use it or something similar. Especially if it proves popular. 

What is Yahoo's interest in developing Fire Eagle? According to co-founder David Filo, 

We really wanted this functionality for Yahoo services. But by opening it up for the rest of the Web, consumers are more likely to adopt it.


But along a different line, Fire Eagle point man Tom Coates has said  that the service could be a direct revenue generator for Yahoo, particularly for heavy hitters like advertisers. Can anyone say location based spam?  And will you be able to limit location reporting to the premium paying accounts?  Or at some point will you need to pay a premium to NOT have your location reported?  Want privacy? It may cost you in the future. Please note that Yahoo has not suggested this to be a pay service for the end user.  But we have been down this road before, and it got bumpy.

Coming soon to kiosk near you: "Hello Bob.  I see that you have been to the golf course today.  Can we recommend the new SlimLite 3000 golf clubs?  You live at 3404 BumbleBee Lane. Based on recent crime reports in your area, we would like to suggest that you look at our home security systems, on sale today.  We see that your wife, Carol, is currently at the salon.  Can we suggest that you look at our money saving home beauty care products? Bob, looking at your recent location areas we are sorry to inform you that your health insurance permium is going up, as per the agreement in paragraph 7, section 2."

At this point Yahoo is adamant that personal information will not be given away without permission.  Of course, you will have to know how the information could be used once permission is given, and that is an education that a lot of users may get the hard way.