Update: Geolocation and Yahoo!’s Fire Eagle

200902151422.jpgI try to keep abreast of mobile-enabled geolocation software, and two of the largest contenders in this space (as I see it) are Google and Yahoo!. At the moment, Yahoo!’s Fire Eagle software has been publicly available (with an open API) for over a year (I talked about it previously) and, according to Ars Technica, about 70 third-party applications have been developed.

There are major updates coming to Fire Eagle:

…users will soon be seeing an ActionScript Fire Eagle library and a Mozilla Firefox geo-plugin that locates users via WiFi MAC addresses. Also coming up are new XMPP libraries. (Source)

It’s the focus on the Firefox geo-plugin that I think will be most interesting to watch. Given the Mozilla is currently developing their Fennec browser for mobile environments, it suggests that the Fire Eagle plugin could come to phones and other mobile devices that are Internet-by-WiFi but not GPS or data plan enabled. Using a browser plugin, it should be possible to identify your location on a map simply by being in vicinity to wireless APs, regardless of whether you can actually authenticate to them (similar to how users with iPod Touches can currently roughly locate themselves on Google Maps via WiFi MAC address detection). Below is an image of Mozilla’s beta-version of Fennec.

Continue reading

Comment: Google Latitude

200902121734.jpgIn the past week or so, Google has receive an enormous amount of attention because of their Latitude program. Latitude, once installed and enabled, will alert specified friends to your geographic location very specifically (i.e. street address) or more broadly (i.e. city). Google has developed this system so that users can turn off the system, can alter how precise it locates users, and has (really) just caught up to the technologies that their competitors have already been playing with (I wrote a little about Yahoo!’s Fire Eagle software, which is similar to Latitude, a few months ago).

While many people have already written and spoken about Latitude, I’ve found myself on a fence. On the one hand, I think that some of the criticisms towards the ‘privacy’ features of the program have been innane – at least one privacy advocate’s core ‘contribution’ to has been a worry that individuals might be given a phone with Latitude installed and active, without knowing about its presence or activation. As a result, they would be tracked without having consented to the program, or the geo-surveillance.

Continue reading

Update: Mobiles and Your Identity

Last year I authored a post entitled “Mobiles and Your Identity“, where I attempted to unpack some of the privacy and surveillance concerns that are associated with smart phones, such as RIM’s Blackberry and Apple’s iPhone. In particular, I focused on the dangers that were associated with the theft of a mobile device – vast swathes of both your own personal data, as well as the personal information of your colleagues and friends, can be put at risk by failing to protect your device with passwords, kill switches, and so forth.

Mark Nestmann, over at “Preserving Your Privacy and More” has a couple posts discussing the risks that smart phones pose if a government authority arrests you (in the US). He notes that, in a recent case in Kansas, police examined a suspect’s mobile phone data to collect call records. When the case was brought to the Supreme Court, the Court found that since the smart phone’s records were held in a ‘container’ (i.e. the phone itself) that the police were within their rights to search the phone records. Mark notes that this ruling does not apply to all US states – several have more sensitive privacy laws – but leaves us with the warning that because laws of analogue search are being applied to digital devices that it is best to limit the data stored on smart phones (and mobile digital devices in general).

Continue reading