Clarke and the Continuous Location Update

I love the idea of Fire Eagle, Yahoo’s under-supported location-brokering service. However until recently I found myself unable to use it. I had no mobile service that I could consistently rely on to update Fire Eagle.

clarke app

Enter Clarke. Clarke (named after Arthur C. Clarke) is a small tool that runs in the background on my Mac. It updates my location on FireEagle every 5 minutes. It triangulates me via Skyhook (the same location-service that is used on the iPhone). Like all FireEagle apps Clarke used OAuth to gain access to my account (developer Tom Taylor used oauthconsumer). Tom has released the Clarke code on Github.

If you don’t have a Mac or don’t wish to run Clarke for some other reason these Fire Eagle updater might do the trick for you. Fire Eagle Updater Add-on for Firefox has a very descriptive name. This Firefox extension was developed by Yahoo! and requires the Geode extension. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a similar updater for Windows.

fireeagle levels

The reason I bring up Clarke is not that you can update FireEagle; there are plenty of apps (79 in the gallery) that work with the service. Instead, it’s interesting because of its continuous background updates. I don’t have to think about it and can leave it running all the time, which means it gets forgotten.

When I setup a continuous location-updater I have to think about the actions of my future self. How can I guard against him? What if there are places or times that I do not want revealed (shopping for a birthday present, my home, etc.)? I take care of this by usually only sharing my neighborhood (it’s useful for both locals and non-locals without getting too specific). However, in the future I’d like time-based rules (share specific places after 5PM), white lists (always share bars or when I am in San Francisco) and black-lists (never share my home). Services like Clarke and Fire Eagle and Latitude will need to add these safeguards before they get wide spread adoption.

  • Rich Pitts

    I have long thought there come a time when there will be a market in time for two location based services and

  • Hi Brady, I’m the author of Clarke – so thanks for the write-up!

    You’re very right about how easy it is to forget these quiet background services, but I’d argue that there’s no way to ever protect yourself against your future self. It’s simply impossible to codify the details of areas that should be blacklisted, at what times, and so on. You’d never be able to describe it to the software in a way that could protect you.

    Something else has to give, and I suspect it’s going to be society.

  • I disagree with Tom that it’s impossible to codify blacklist areas. Difficult to implement and scale, yes, but not impossible. While in the blacklist location, you ‘mark’ that location and specify a radius. Then when updating a location you search for all blacklist_loc that are within a radius X (where X = the MAX radius of any of your blacklist areas) of cur_loc. If you get hits, you then iterate through each location in that list to see if cur_loc is within blacklist_loc_radius. Now, I’m not saying that’s easy to code or easy to scale up to ‘whole internet’ size but it’s possible.

    It still won’t protect you entirely though, because there will be dead-zones on your location map. So where you live, for instance will be within on of those ‘dead zones’, especially ‘dead zones’ you traverse in and out of often, like your home. Hmmmm Brady seems to traverse the dead zone downtown where the strip club is, he enters the dead zone but doesn’t come out the other side for 2 hours….

    Won’t be long and this will be a ‘breaking news story’ blaming continuous location update. (Man thinks twitter let thieves know he wasn’t home). Knowing where you are may be invasive, but knowing where your not can be important too. But this is nothing new. Valet parking attendants (among others) have done this for years. While you’re at the show, they take your car (with the house keys you gave them) and go to your house and help themselves. Or giving away ‘free tickets’ to a show in the mail so you go to the show and they have a 2 hour window when they know you’re not home, etc.

    As with a lot of new technology, it will take a while before society finds it’s middle on this.


  • Harry Haller

    Why would you volunteer to be tracked? Who knew Big Brother would be voluntary? Just because you can do it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Your future self is probably warning you about that!

  • @Harry – Do you have a cellphone? Do you use a computer? Do use a credit card? If so you are being tracked voluntarily. After you realize that then it just becomes a matter of who do you want your information shared with.

  • D

    if you were in the middle of the Gobi desert, you’d want to be tracked with Spot Satellite Messenger.

  • Rich – you miss the point. It’s possible to implement technically, but try and get people to a) understand how to use it and b) use it.