Google Latitude: a stalker’s wet dream

Geolocation is already one of the next big trends in mobile devices. Most premium cell phones have GPS capabilities, and those that don’t can use less accurate network-based solutions to estimate their locations. In turn, location-based services are on the rise. Knowing your exact latitude and longitude in the urban jungle doesn’t do a whole lot of good by itself, but it suddenly becomes useful when put into context. Travel directions, traffic conditions, and even the nearest ATM are just a few button presses away at any time, anywhere. As a daily Series 60 user, Google Maps is one of my most frequently used applications—GPS-assisted directions make finding new locations a breeze, and the real-time traffic conditions do their best to get me to Lakers games on time.

So, what happens when you take all of those location-aware mobile devices and make them social? That’s exactly what Google aims to do with its new service, Latitude.

Basically, Latitude takes position data from your mobile phone and makes it visible to the world. All right, "the world" isn’t entirely accurate, since you have to choose which contacts you want to share your location with. Authorized friends may then view your location within Google Maps on their mobile devices or within a Latitude iGoogle gadget on their PCs. Some mobile versions of Google Maps even have chat functions built in, so not only can you find your friends, but you can send them an IM saying you’re sneaking up behind them.

Google Latitude in action on iGoogle

Latitude raises an interesting question: do people really need to know where I am at all times? I’m still not even sold on the idea of Twitter. No one wants to know what I’m up to every two hours, and I’d be a bit concerned if they did. Frankly, my life’s just not that interesting. Now Google wants to add my current location to the wealth of personal information available on the Internet? The idea, according to Google, is that friends that just happen to be near you can stumble on your activity and share in the fun. But maybe I specifically didn’t invite a certain friend, or maybe I’m not in the mood to hang out. I’d rather friends not drop in on me unannounced just because they’re in the same area.

Thankfully, hiding your status for certain contacts, or even all contacts, is fairly straightforward. You can even spoof your location by manually selecting your position. But do I really want to manage all of that? Keeping track of which friends I have to hide from just to go about my day is not an idea I relish. I find it easier simply to turn off the service.

So, what is Google Latitude good for? How about using Latitude to let people find me only when I want them to? Honestly, I just don’t see the point. In the past, my friends and I have never had problems meeting once we decide to get together. "Hey dude, meet you at Yard House in 20" has, amazingly, always worked. I’ve never found myself wishing for GPS-accurate position data for my friends, and I can’t imagine they have, either. It might seem silly, but the first application that I thought of for Latitude was a large-scale, GPS-assisted urban game of tag. Clearly, Google Latitude isn’t fulfilling a critical role in my life any time soon.

Like all things Google, Latitude also makes you wonder what Google is doing with all of that position data. Because, let’s be honest: it’s going to use the data for something. Whether it’ll serve up location-aware advertisements or sell demographic data, Google potentially has a very large amount of valuable but also sensitive personal information on its hands. For now, Latitude’s privacy policy guarantees your location data isn’t available to third parties, and previously reported locations are not saved. Also, just last week, Google committed to protect position information from law enforcement agencies without a warrant. However, the concern over my personal information is just one more reason for me not to use the service.

Personally, I’ve found better uses for GPS in my mobile phone. Geotagging my hiking photos has proven to be a lot of fun (especially paired with iPhoto ’09), and plotting my cycling routes helps manage my exercise. For now, I’ll continue to use Google Maps without signing into the Latitude service. Maybe at a future trade show, the next time several of us TR writers are trying to find each other in an overwhelming environment, we’ll turn to Google Latitude—but I doubt it.

Besides the S60, Google Maps is also available for Windows Mobile, Android, iPhone, and Blackberry devices. Latitude support for the iPhone is still unavailable, but that still leaves a large number of Latitude-capable devices on the market and many friends to potentially stalk. What about you? Are you already using Google Latitiude or a similar service to track your friends, or has the fear of Big Brother—or worse yet, your significant other—spying on you caused you to shy away? Hit up the comments and let us know what you think.

Comments closed
    • webb4343
    • 11 years ago

    How many of you have seen the Movie “Enemy of the State”. Now you have the opportunity of paying extra so that interested parties can know where you are at all times. Can the camera and microphone features of a smartphone be turned on remotely? Are you certain? If technology is available it WILL be abused.

    • Joshvar
    • 11 years ago

    The only time I’ve thought “Man, I could really use this” is at a music festival where a text saying “OH I AM OVER AT THE AT&T BLUE STAGE” (ACL Fest) is about as useful as saying “I’m in Texas” at that point.

    Road trips would be cool too…so if your caravan gets separated, you can be more exact with finding your fellow vehicles.

    However, any other use (in malls, for example), would make the GPS functionality a bit hard to use, as my BB88x0s haven’t had GREAT indoor tracking functionality.

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 11 years ago

      That’s a good situation too: theme parks. I could see the use for that with my wife and I and friends as well.

      Ok, so maybe there are some uses beyond what I originally imagined.

    • fredsnotdead
    • 11 years ago

    There must be some really lonely geeks working at Google.

    • onlycodered
    • 11 years ago

    Trying this app on my AT&T Tilt. It’s so accurate it’s scary.

    • P5-133XL
    • 11 years ago

    Super-Stalker

    • Rakhmaninov3
    • 11 years ago

    This should be a boon to guys shopping with their wives everywhere!

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 11 years ago

      See #24. hehe

    • justme
    • 11 years ago

    I wonder what would have happened a few years ago if, subsequent to driving down and photographing almost every square inch of most U.S. cities, Microsoft then invented a new technology that tracked a person’s every move and broadcasted it online. Somehow I doubt it would be heralded as the latest ‘cool’ new gadget, but maybe it’s just me?

      • FireGryphon
      • 11 years ago

      From who and how something is presented is as important for acceptance as the actual usefulness of the product itself.

      l[

    • FireGryphon
    • 11 years ago

    Google Latitude does two things:

    1) It provides a free alternative to GPS/Lojack/etc. systems that tell an employer where his employees are.

    2) It’s a logical extension of technology that may or may not be viable for the general public, but as with all new products, the market has to test it, and I guess that’s what’s happening now.

    I think it’s foolish for people to make their lives so public, so I simply won’t use the service.

    • Usacomp2k3
    • 11 years ago

    I did have a use for this earlier this evening: Shopping with multiple people inevitably leads to a phone call trying to find each other.
    ๐Ÿ˜†

      • FireGryphon
      • 11 years ago

      The benefit of a phone call, though, is that you actually get to tell the person, “wait there, I’ll be right over” as opposed to chasing them around the mall ๐Ÿ˜›

    • SecretMaster
    • 11 years ago

    Man hide and seek must be really lame with this application.

      • blubje
      • 11 years ago

      not really: find a way to intercept the GPS or attach the phone to something else (e.g. stick it in someone’s backpack)…

    • zealeus
    • 11 years ago

    Nice job on feeding into some people’s hysteria over this program. Opt-out, as you point out- is your friend. If we want to start having scary headlines, at least use tracking services that aren’t opt-out next time.

      • blubje
      • 11 years ago

      there is a problem with minors not knowing what they’re doing, and possibly more serious abuse of a supposedly social feature — if someone hacks your friend’s google account, they can now follow you around.

    • SnowboardingTobi
    • 11 years ago

    Yeah… I came across this a month or so back when I loaded a newer version of Google Maps onto my Blackberry. Needless to say, I didn’t turn this service on.

    Maybe this is useful if you have little kids so you can see where they’re at… but then how many little kids have phones with them?

      • indeego
      • 11 years ago

      The ones that the stalker with the “free candy” van gave to themg{<.<}g

    • indeego
    • 11 years ago

    Scary headline meets vastly less scary reality text in article: fightg{

    • glacius555
    • 11 years ago

    i wonder if this will ever be used as main and only evidence in a divorce process, when a husband/wife cheats..

    • PRIME1
    • 11 years ago

    Great, so now when I want to know where my kids are at I can just “google” em.

    • Ragnar Dan
    • 11 years ago

    I still remember when, before Bill Clinton became well known anyway, using the last two words of this blog entry’s title was considered extremely bad form, and simply was not done in polite company.

      • Xylker
      • 11 years ago

      Ever wonder if the end of the world REALLY IS right around the corner?
      Maybe just America as you and I knew it?

      RE: the tech… I will not “opt-in.” Given the choice, I will most certainly opt out

        • Ragnar Dan
        • 11 years ago

        Well, the West has seen times of dishonorable private behavior grow until bad consequences resulted, and seen decency revive, along with knowledge of how to conduct oneself. It is to be hoped that we won’t have to suffer more foolish policy causing a return to common sense because we’re all impoverished, as is presently happening.

        And it would be nice if we didn’t have to suffer more attacks from those who mean to destroy us before we take care of the threat.

        But every minute is filled with the birth of fools.

      • BobbinThreadbare
      • 11 years ago

      At one point, women couldn’t show their ankles in polite company. Either we’re throwing off the repressive shackles of our forefathers, or we’re just becoming decadent and depraved. I don’t know if TR ever counted as “polite” company anyways.

        • Ragnar Dan
        • 11 years ago

        They couldn’t, or rather proper women wouldn’t, show their ankles in public. They knew better than their heirs about temptation’s results, being more literate and well read than later generations.

        Anyway, it matters not what sort of badly behaved person may be in a writer’s audience. What matters is that he write in such a way so as to cause him no shame nor to deprive anyone of his innocence.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 11 years ago

      moist fascination?

        • Ragnar Dan
        • 11 years ago

        Ahem.

        How about ‘fantasy come true’? It’s apt, and doesn’t add anything unnecessary.

    • zgirl
    • 11 years ago

    There is nothing wrong with have a service to allow me to find myself. I’ve used google maps on my cell phone all the time when I travel and it has been immensely helpful in finding cool locations and sometimes myself ๐Ÿ˜‰

    However that is how it should be, a device and use for me to locate…me. No one else needs to know where I am at or why I am there. Total invasion of privacy. You might as well put a gps chip under everyone’s skin at this point.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 11 years ago

    q[

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 11 years ago

    q[

    • SomeOtherGeek
    • 11 years ago

    Nope, will not use this and most likely never will. The only thing I can think of it being any use is to track down your kids. I would never do that cuz as a parent, I just have to trust them that they are doing good and give them that little bit of privacy as they don’t really have it at home around me.

    So, I say it is a waste of resources and pointless, but it takes all kinds to make a world, right?

    • ludi
    • 11 years ago

    This is reinforcing the wisdom of my decision to get by with $20 cell phones that pretty much function only as a, you know, phone.

      • Meadows
      • 11 years ago

      Ludi is on point.

      • eitje
      • 11 years ago

      ludi-te. ๐Ÿ˜›

      • derFunkenstein
      • 11 years ago

      preachin to the choir, yo. I’m right with you there.

    • Turkina
    • 11 years ago

    I think a lot of these complaints apply to almost all new technologies – “why do I need to carry around a phone all the time?” “Why would I want to listen to more than eight tracks of music?” etc.
    I’m not terribly enthusiastic about this service either, but I can see more than a few uses. For instance, I travel a lot on business and it might be nice to get together with friends who are in the area. Instead of spamming a bunch of friends who happen to live in, say, Washington DC to find out if they’re available to hang out, I can just let let my Latitude location update and see what happens. Or I can check their (and other friend’s) location on Latitude to see if they’re even in town (or happen to also be visiting).

    • MadManOriginal
    • 11 years ago

    I hardly use my cellphone as an, er, b[

    • khands
    • 11 years ago

    Personally, this is an absolutely horrible idea. Big brother already has an easy enough time finding out where I am without having my main communication device constantly updating a publicly available service as to my whereabouts.

    • eitje
    • 11 years ago

    q[<"Hey dude, meet you at Yard House in 20" has, amazingly, always worked.<]q That's a "get off my lawn!" sentence if I've ever seen one.

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