Yahoo Knows Where You Are

Dennis Faas's picture

Yahoo has launched new technology making it easier for users to get website information personalised to their current location. However, privacy advocates say the search engine's safeguards aren't enough to protect web surfers from misuse by third-party organisations.

The new tool, FireEagle, is primarily designed for mobile devices such as handheld PCs and smart phones. The idea is that the system will be open so that any website you visit can use the information about your location without needing separate software or coding.

A reported 50 or more sites have already begun using the scheme, including Dopplr (which links regular backpackers so they can meet up on their travels), and Brightkite, a social networking site which uses FireEagle to help users see which of their friends might be in town. (Source:

Naturally, Yahoo has installed plenty of privacy barriers. Users can select which sites and applications have access to their location, and how precisely they want to be tracked (by city, zip code or exact location). Users must also to reply to an email every 45 days to confirm they are still fine with their location being monitored and shared. (Source:

Problem is, each service allowed access to personal details will have its own privacy policies. You can ask Yahoo to wipe its records about you at any time, but that won't affect any details other websites have already stored.

The FireEagle service does have one particularly exciting (if controversial) feature: you can not only temporarily switch off tracking, but can also give out false details. Officially, that's a security measure, but it's not hard to imagine cheating spouses or people pulling a 'sickie' taking advantage of this feature.

At the moment, Yahoo doesn't plan to use the technology for any of its own applications. However, if FireEagle catches on it could create a valuable market for advertising based on precise location, such as promoting a restaurant to people nearby.

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