Thursday, July 05, 2007

Off-Carrier LBS platform

Hats off to the folks over at Yahoo! Research Berkeley for developing something truly disruptive!

The Yahoo! Research Berkeley team has come up with an open LBS platform that allows the community to generate and openly obtain the location information. This is in contrast to other LBS platforms, most of which are owned by carriers.

“Fire Eagle”, code name for YRB’s open LBS platform, allows location-based applications to connect to it and 1) post end-users’ location information, and/or 2) get end-users’ location information. Here is an example of how it works: Suppose you, as a developer, come up with the “Totally Rad” Social Networking location-based application and connect to “Fire Eagle” using its soon to be made public API. Now, let’s say one of your users also uses Zone Tag. While out and about, this user takes a picture, tags it, and uploads it to Zone Tag. Zone Tag will determine the user’s location by means of its Cell Site ID database. Zone Tag will then post the user’s location information to the “Fire Eagle” platform. Next, the end-user will log in to the Totally Rad Social Networking application. The Totally Rad application will get the user’s location information from Fire Eagle. With this information Totally Rad will be able to serve your end-users with location information about their friends or love interests, or even highly targeted ads.

So what about the security of users’ privacy?

Privacy has always been the number one concern with location-based services and continues to be. YRB promises the platform will be armed with privacy features. First, the location history of users will not be maintained. Fire Eagle will only cache each user’s latest posted location information. Second, users will be able to manage through a Web UI which applications should or should not have access to their location information. I would add to that the ability to specify windows of time, ability to turn off the disclosure on information from the device, etc.

How good will the information be?

Unlike a carrier supported LBS application, a user’s Latitude and Longitude may not always be available.

What might the carriers say/do?

They may not do anything until a user’s location information is compromised and used in a bad way… or until they see that this significantly eats into their revenues. For now, though, this is probably will be just noise to them.

What’s Fire Eagle’s status?

Currently “Fire Eagle” is about to go through alpha testing. Enter your email address on the Fire Eagle Website to be notified when it becomes open to the public.

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