Google Latitude, the latest service from the UK’s favourite brand, was launched this week. Users can find out where their friends and contacts are and can send and receive status messages via their mobile handsets.
Latitude works with Google Maps on mobile handsets as well as on a desktop. Users who add this service on iGoogle or download the latest version of Google Maps on their mobile phones can join Latitude and then invite their friends to join. If the friends accept and share their location, they can see where they are, in real time, on the map.
The system makes use of a digital map, where the coordinates of the handset being used are plotted by triangulating the location of the nearest mobile communications towers. This is merely an extension of their My Location service that was launched in December 2007.
The service has its benefits above and beyond the obvious social aspect of knowing where one’s friends are. For example, people can keep track of each other in a very large gathering, or parents can keep an eye on their childrens’ whereabouts.
There are concerns that using such a service would allow Google to invade an individual’s privacy. As David Perez of Arete Consulting put the point across succinctly, “I do not want my mother to know where I am!”.
Users have the choice to accept or refuse an invitation to join the service. A user’s location is revealed only to those members whose invitation has been accepted. Moreover, one can also choose to change the privacy settings for individual contacts in their friends list. Users can also manually input a fake location if they wish to hide their true location from a particular contact.
While Latitude is free to use, Google will most likely start serving location-based advertising to monetise the service.
At present, the service is available on Android phones like the T-Mobile G1, iPhone and iPod touch devices, most colour BlackBerries, Windows Mobile 5.0+, Nokia Smartphones and Java-enabled mobile phones in 27 countries including the USA, most of Europe and India.