Published on February 5th, 2009 | by Babar Bhatti8
Latitude: Tracking Friends Using Google Maps
Google Latitude is a new feature in Google Maps mobile application to track people you know and to share your location information with them. It works on Google’s G1, most BlackBerrys, most Windows Mobile devices and some other smart phones. Google says it will soon work on the iPhone and Sony Ericsson phones. It is opt-in-only feature, so you have to sign up for it. A few major features:
- comes with privacy settings
- users can adjust the level of geographic information they’re willing to share with each person
- users can update their status on the map, can send text messages or call friends directly from this list
- users can opt to allow their location to automatically update every several minutes while they’re moving
This is not the first one but I think based on Google maps popularity, it is a big one. There are many location-based apps (like Loopt.com and Where.com) already which have the functionality to track people on a variety of mobile devices ranging from basic cellphones to iPhones. These apps get location information from three major sources: GPS satellites, Wi-Fi or cellular towers. Once these apps help you to find your favorite person they allow (or rather encourage) you to find nearby attractions, local information or social networks.
More from an article in WSJ (image also courtsey of WSJ):
Along with their locations, friends can share other information on Latitude by updating a status line or changing their picture, which appears as a tiny representative icon on a map. Changes to one’s status or picture will be reflected in Google Talk, Google’s instant-messaging tool, but this doesn’t integrate with other status-related social-networking programs like Facebook or Twitter, and thus may saddle people with another status entry to update.
It’s easy to find fault in Latitude since it often spots people inaccurately, including showing my sister in Boston’s Charles River, rather than in a neighborhood along the river. It’s worth noting that tracking technology in general, including GPS, can be inaccurate. But even with these inaccuracies, my friends and I liked finding one another on our respective maps and used this geographic information to send location-specific messages to each other: I joked with my boyfriend about not leaving his house on time for a dinner and commended my sister on getting up early for church on Sunday.
Usability issues aside, location-based services like Latitude can be just plain creepy, especially when a Big Brother like Google is tracking your whereabouts. So Google incorporated easy-to-change privacy settings so that locations can be automatically detected, manually entered or completely hidden from other people. Or people can sign out of Latitude altogether.
Location-based services like Latitude are great for keeping tabs on friends and could even come in handy in other situations — such as when parents want to know where their kids are or when elderly relatives want to let someone always know their whereabouts. But I wouldn’t want to depend on them in an emergency.