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Sharing My Location Just the Way I Like It

I’ve been waiting eagerly for FireEagle. It launched at ETech (video & Radar post). It’s Yahoo’s service for brokering locations. The app itself is very simple and clear; it’s the way it should be because it can be used to make some very big mistakes. As I’ve written before:

My location is important information — to me, my friends and many, many unknown-to-me third-parties. As it becomes possible to be located (through GPS, wi-fi, cell towers) sharing that information will become very, very easy. This can be a good thing or become one of the most annoying things that you’ve ever done to yourself (ads, spam, ex’s). Because of the high-risk of self-inflicted abuse having an easy way to set permissions on this information is going to become very important.

So when and why will you use FireEagle? My answer is Now. I already have tons of disparate services and contraptions that can know my location (my iPhone, my Loki toolbar, Dopplr, Tripit, DodgeBall… the list goes on); the problem is that my location is trapped within each one of them. I have different friends on different networks and I have different tools on different networks. Fire Eagle provides me a way to funnel all of the inputs together, compare them by date-stamp and then share out the appropriate levels of accuracy to applications.

This is all FireEagle does. It shares my location to directly other applications — not to friends. I used to think this was a limitation. Something that they would fix with a Fire Eagle social network that would allow my friends to query my location via their own calls. Then I realized, something that the team had realized long ago, that by giving my friend permission to access my location I was also letting my friend share my location without my permission with apps I didn’t necessarily trust. If they gave an app access to their Fire Eagle account and that permission extended to my location then a third-party would have access to my location without my explicit permission. The way it is set up now I use other apps to handle sharing with my friends, the way it should work and I can remove any app that plays fast and loose with my data very easily.

Upon signing into Fire Eagle you are asked your location and asked how long you want to share your information without being prompted again. You are now ready to share your location. To allow an app to update or access your location go to that app (such as Dopplr) and set its permissions (as seen below).

dopplr access to fire eagle

At any time I can take away Dopplr’s ability to read or update my location. I could also desensitize its permissions to only know what city I am in (as opposed to my neighborhood or exact location or state or country).

fire eagle app view

In time Fire Eagle will provide SMS updates, a Facebook badge, a badge and an Application Gallery, but right now it’s up to you to make Fire Eagle useful. To do this you’ll have to hunt down the 20+ external applications that are making good use of Fire Eagle. Amongst them you’ll find an iPhone app, Rummble, Presence Router (an interesting look desktop app for managing your presence on sites such as Jaiku and Fireeagle), and Simon Willison’s Wikinear (a mobile web app that shows you the Wikipedia pages near you). Fireeagle developer Seth Fitzsimmons’s delicious feed is a great way to find many of them. You can also follow Firebot on Twitter to be alerted of new news. Firebot is actually an unaffiliated Twitter-bot for updating FireEagle — very cool!

Fire Eagle has taken care of a lot of the hard problems while still leaving a lot of room for developers. First they’ve taken on the issue of trust by being clear. Only the apps I allow can get my location. Yes a government could subpoena your location, but that could happen to any of the apps that already have your location.

Second, they handle syncing all of the feeds with a simple rule: The newest information wins; more specific, non-contradictory information updates. For example, currently Dopplr knows my schedule at a city level and it updates my FireEagle account once per day with my location at a city-level. If another app updates it to say I am in a neighborhood of that city (say the Mission District of the city of San Francisco)

I judge the the eventual mainstreaming location brokering, along with the geoindex, to be one of the most important issues we’ll cover at Where 2.0 this year. My location has been out there for a while, I am hoping that FireEagle will be able to make that information useful. I look forward to the apps that will be built on FireEagle.

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  • http://dasht-exp-1a.com Thomas Lord

    “Feeds” seem like a perfect metaphor for letting people manage privacy.

    Unless a feed is directed very narrowly, it’s an easy intuition that letting some data go out on a feed means “publishing” that data so, it’s out of your control.

    The harder part is getting all of the private data that people generate on-line into a “box” out of which the only escape is via feeds that are controlled by users.

    That’s one reason to invent the category of a “personal server” — a general purpose web service, analogous to a personal computer, which is the main service to which users provide private information. Forcing an extra step in there — the user must explicitly move data from private space through a feed — gives users control and a situation that is easier to intuit.

    -t

  • John Bates

    What a clear explaination of FireEagle. Might FireEagle be the start of Broker Apps that are trusted applications that stand between you and a “real application”. So FireEagle is the broker between you and Dopplr and Tripit and DodgeBall etc. It is sharing granular levels of locations between various apps that might not be trusted applications because of what information they share with 3rd parties.
    Now what about a microblogging broker app standing between you and Twitter, Pwnce, etc. Could another Broker App stand between RSS apps like FriendFeed, etc to create an aggregator of aggregators. Could there be a Social networking broker app that stands between Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn etc. Or what about Identity Broker App. Could this be the way we will get federated Identity, which is where OpenID is going. so you can have a a whole series of Broker Apps that manage the interactions that you want shared with other applications that are useful but you want the flexibility that a Broker App can offer.

  • Don Park

    you mean if i give my phone number to someone, they might give that phone number to someone i dont know? oh noes! i have no control over that! omg!

    nice story, but information wants to be free. maybe you’d be interested in some DRM for your location information. its a good deal (April Fools) and only screws those who need to use your information.

  • http://www.arkansawyer.com/wordpress/ John A Arkansawyer

    Ever been stalked, Don?

    If not, then perhaps you might try it, in order to understand why granular control of your location information is important.

  • http://feedflix.com Raghu Srinivasan

    Organizing lunch get-togethers with friends. Often work has taken me to the same location (eg. Downtown SJ) as 2 or 3 of my friends without any of us knowing the other was just a few blocks away.

    It would be cool to have an app (a mobile app!) that lets you know which of your friends might be in a given area at around a given time.