Twitter Still Working on Geolocation API

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-09-24

Twitter said it is still working on its geolocation API for allowing developers to add latitude and longitude to any tweet. Twitter platform lead Ryan Sarver shed more light on how geolocation in the microblogging service will work at the Twitter Conference in Los Angeles Sept. 23.  

SmarterWare's Gina Trapani caught the news in a developer session. While such sessions aren't normally breeding grounds for breaking news, the marriage of the hottest Web service on the planet with location-based services could be something of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup for programmers looking to create and nurture such services.

Location-based services have become table stakes at a time when users are leveraging an increasing number of services from their Web-based smartphones such as the Apple iPhone, Palm Pre or Google Android. Google, Yahoo, Loopt and Brightkite all provide location-aware applications to help users find friends, local restaurants or even shopping deals.

Twitter Co-founder Biz Stone announced Twitter's work on a location API in August, noting that it would be opt-in to assuage the privacy concerns of Twitter users.

According to Trapani, Sarver said users will have to visit their Twitter accounts' settings page to allow Twitter to store that data, meaning it will not be enabled by default.

"Even if your Twitter client sends lat/log points along with your status update, if you didn't explicitly opt into including that information, Twitter will drop it at the point of entry and it will not be stored or published," Trapani wrote.

Also, Sarver said Twitter clients will include a checkbox below the posting area labeled something like "include my location with this tweet." Users who check the box when they send a tweet will still have to visit their Twitter settings page to give Twitter permission to store their location data.

Moreover, Twitter will jettison geolocation data stored in tweets more than 14 days old to avoid subpoenas about a user's location. Twitter is looking into ways to store this safely store this in the future.

These details underscore that Twitter is being extremely sensitive about handling user data with its location API. This is crucial in making it work. People are nervous enough about leaving digital footprints on Google and other Web services without worrying about how these Web services are tracking their physical movements.

The fear is not so much that the location service providers can access the location of users, but that law enforcement authorities and other government agencies can use this information for their own purposes. Privacy advocates envision scary possibilities with location service abuse.

Read more about geolocation in Twitter on TechMeme here.

Meanwhile, the Twitter Conference is proving to be quite the entertainment spotlight despite having only some 400 attendees, according to this BusinessWeek report, which notes motivational speaker Tony Robbins and skateboarding celebrity Tony Hawk as two of the participants.

Finally, Twitter application developers have a place to promote their applications, according to TechCrunch, VentureBeat and others. Oneforty is an app store featuring more than 1,300 Twitter-based apps.

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