Yahoo’s Fire Eagle Tracks User Locations

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After a while in private beta, Yahoo’s Brickhouse development group has set loose public beta of Fire Eagle, a new service that aims to be a centralized hub for users to tap into location-aware Internet applications. The idea is that users update their location info via Fire Eagle—ideally via a mobile phone, but using the Web works too—and a myriad of location aware services will all be able to pick up that information and work their location-specific magic for that users—like alerting you to nearby friends, a great restaurant nearby, updating traffic information, getting directions…and, no doubt one day, being subjected to location-specific ads.

Several applications have already set up interfaces with Fire Eagle, including travel plan service Dopplr, messaging site Pownce, and social networking services like ZKOut and BrightKite.

"Fire Eagle is about making everything on the Internet more useful, fun, or interesting by adding the element of location," said Yahoo’s Brickhouse head Tom Coates, in a statement. "We’re here to help people take their location to the Web by giving them the ability to control how much detail about their location they want to share and which applications they want to share it with."

Fire Eagle enables users to authorize specific Web, phone, or desktop applications that can pull location information, and decide how much information gets shared with selected services. Users can opt to update their locations manually, or (if they have compatible phones or other device) have their location updated automatically. Developers can tap into Fire Eagle to more easily make their applications location-aware: By relying in Fire Eagle, developers don’t have to do all the work of creating a location-aware application infrastructure, they can just ask Yahoo for that information and focus on making their application or services as good as it can be.

Services like Fire Eagle raise obvious privacy concerns—consider how much easier stalking becomes if your target is constantly updating their location information! But Yahoo claims to put the availability of location information completely at the users’ control, even letting users shut down all location reporting for a little "off-grid" time.