Posted by: Frank | February 25, 2009

Where Am I?

A few weeks back Google announced a new location based service called Latitude that can show your present location on Google Maps. The service is particularly designed for Android phones and the iPhone, which can automatically update your location. Many people are concerned about the privacy issues something like this can cause, and I understand those concerns. Without particularly defending the service, I do want to point out a few things about it after trying it out.

First off, unless you always have GPS enabled in your phone, the service will not be particularly accurate. The basic location service indicates the closest cell phone tower that you connect to, which I have found to be many city blocks away from your actual location. Presumably law efforcement has a much better way to use cell phones to track a more precise location, and because each cell phone has a unique identifier and is always talking to the network, you can always be tracked as long as your phone is on.

Only the people that you designate can see your location in Latitude. You have the ability to control how much of your location information is provided to those people, for example just indicating the city that you are in as opposed to city streets. You can also configure Latitude in Android to either automatically detect your location, which is the most concerning feature for most people, or configure it so that you manually set your location, making it more like Brightkite. Of course, you can always turn Latitude off or simply hide your location. One of the features that Latitude lacks is the ability to send a text message or even call your friends directly from their profile, though you can start a chat using Google Talk or send them an email. If the service is about connecting to people around you, it would seem that text messaging would be an obvious choice to add.

For me, Latitude and services like it such as Brightkite and Loopt are not too valuable unless you have several friends near you who also use the service. If you choose, Loopt and Brightkite will post information to Twitter, making them more useful than Latitude, which for the moment is limited to Google Maps and your friends using the application on their T-Mobile G1 or iPhone.

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