The Real Impact Of Google's Latitude: Getting People Comfortable With Location Sharing

from the What's-Your-10-20 dept

There’s been a lot of coverage around about Google’s new friend finder, built into its Maps app for smartphones. The feature, called Latitude, is able to share your location with friends that you select, and who also carry a compatible mobile device (or laptop) with the app installed and a data connection to Google’s servers. This kind of service has lots of uses for the enterprise, families, and among friends, and it seems like Google has added the necessary controls to avoid the worst of the privacy issues. But the privacy issue has been discussed elsewhere, and frankly it’s hardly worth debating since usage is optional. Yes, you sacrifice privacy to use such a service, but YOU choose can when it’s useful enough to be worth the privacy sacrifice, and turn it off at other times. Seems simple. I make the same trade-off with my toll-paying RFID tag.

So let’s discuss the competitive implications of this latest move, instead. Other firms, such as Loopt, Networks in Motion, Wavemarket, OmniTRAKS, FindWhere, Motorola Rhino, Autodesk have been offering various location tracking services for years, with the first in the US consumer phone services popping up around 2005. Historically, the services were offered for prices of $10/mo or more. Loopt offers their consumer service through carriers for free or $4/mo, but Latitude is user-installed and free. Now, it’s no surprise that consumer-grade tracking services are offered for free: consumers tend to like that price, and the providers can make revenue by driving consumers to local business through advertising. But the free Google application also threatens enterprise-grade tracking solutions, especially in an era of cost-cutting. Like enterprise-grade solutions, Google can display a map with the location of all the tracked "friends" or staff on a PC as well as a phone. Zoinks! Looks like the bottom just fell out of the low end of the enterprise tracking market.

So, how do enterprise vendors "compete with free"? Well, so far, Latitude cannot replace an elaborate employee tracking solution that records breadcrumbs, integrates time-carding, optimal dispatch routing, offers geo-fencing, and other high-end functions. The existing enterprise vendors can compete quite well by offering premium features, integration into management tools, and verticalized solutions that deliver incremental value over the free services. How do you compete with a free product? Offer a product that’s worth more — and which the free version can’t easily copy.

Google’s entry signals a tipping point for tracking, as its brand penetration and price will push this type of service into many more handsets. Since Latitude also works on laptops, we can expect much better targeted location-aware advertising on our laptop Google searches, too… whether that impresses you or creeps you out. Bottom line is that the Twitter-types, who constantly update their network with short text messages, can save themselves some typing with Latitude. Privacy advocates will shun it, and others like me will manage it, enabling Latitude when we need it, and shutting it off most of the day. However, in the long run, this can be quite good for competitors in the market who can successfully incorporate advanced features worth paying for. Let Google educate the market, and have demand for such apps in the enterprise level bubble up.

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Comments on “The Real Impact Of Google's Latitude: Getting People Comfortable With Location Sharing”

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Anonymous Coward says:


But the privacy issue has been discussed elsewhere, and frankly it’s hardly worth debating since usage is optional.

Ahh, but therein lies the problem. How do you define “optional”? I mean if a parent orders their child to use it, it that optional? If an employer demands that an employee use it at work, is that optional? If the employer demands that the employee carry an employer provided phone and use it at all times, it that optional? If a judge orders someone to use it, is that optional? If your significant other demands that you use it, is that optional? Now I realize that at some point almost everything is optional. Even breathing is optional if you’re willing to suffer the consequences of not doing so. But I’m talking about the kind of “optional” where are no negative consequences (like being grounded, fired, incarcerated, divorced, ostracized, etc.) for opting out. As I understand it, there are no protections against any of those things.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Optional?

parents, employers, judges, etc. They already have this on different levels.
I worked maintenance for a while paying for my first couple years of study. You were issued a phone that you were expected to carry during working hours, and work truck all had gps tracking.
Google just made it easy and more useful.

It’s really a matter of trust, if you trust you’re employer and if they trust you. If that isn’t there, and it is causing stress, you are just hurting yourself.

As for the new google app, I haven’t had a chance to try it myself because of my lack of money to buy cool things to have it run on, but it seems like could be very interesting and useful in certain situations.
Just remember, anyone can be found, some just make it easier than others.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Optional?

Google just made it easy and more useful.

Google is working to make it more widespread. Just because it’s widespread, does that make it good? I remember the Houston Chief of Police going around saying how police monitoring cameras should be widespread to the point that they were installed in everyone’s home so that the police could watch. Well, that would certainly be widespread. But would that make it good?

Relonar (forgot to attribute my last post) says:

Re: Re: Re: Optional?

“Google just made it easy and more useful.” does not imply the question “does that make it good?”

They are just a company that saw an open market

– google is good at aggregating and managing data
– the popularity of social networking is obvious
– They already have location databases, maps, routing data, etc
– They have a good knowledge pool including how to communicate with cell phone location protocals, and location based on ip ranges or user input.

With pointers such as that, and a relatively new and open market there is no reason why google shouldn’t have brought a service like this to market.

Also google has some consumer trust, and as stated latitude is optional, just the same as posting your every musing to a blog or twitter account. Some people are comfortable with that much transparency in their life. Latitude isn’t about surveillance, sure it could be used to track some one, but as I said before some people just make it easier than others. Nothing about the program is aimed at such a use, rather it is more pointed towards social aspects.
Most of these points were addressed in Derek’s post.

It is a market product, and consumers will decide if “it is good” or not.

mordred says:

Re: Optional?

it is optional in a sense thatyou are free to use it as you please, a knife is deadly, sure you don’t have to kill yourself but what if your parents want you too, or your employer. this doesn[‘t change the fact that it’s optional the person who says you have to use it is in fault and threatens your privacy not the tool that person uses.

Anonymous Coward says:

Yes, Optional

Children do not, and should not, have all the right afforded to adults. You can easily choose not to work for a company that demands that of you. You can accept different punishment for your crime then tracking, say like prison or house arrest, I’m sure most felons would love the freedom of being able to be tracked anywhere, not having to stay at home all the time.
The point I think you are missing is that there is no case where you have to do these things in a legal sense. The Gov’t is not mandating it yet.(We’ll see how that stands after a few years of Obama) And the right to privacy only applies to gov’t actions and criminal actions. Obviously using tracking tech surreptitiously is illegal and should continue to be so. I am a firm believer in free markets, and if a company tries that and it fails because noone likes it, then so be it. And if it succeeds that’s great too. But you do not have to work for them, buy from them, etc. People can boycott from inside a company as well. All choices have consequences.

Neverhood says:


No matter how cool I think this technology is, it still creeps me out.

I have dreamed of using this kind of service for years, but now when it is actually here I’m not sure I want to use it. I think the appealing thing about it is that I could see where my friends are, but at the same time I’m not sure there is many situations where I would want to automatically share my location.

Maybe that is having a bit of double standards, but I still feel that my current location is a bit private.

Conservative Republican Beer Drinker says:

Kidding me, right?

You people have got to be kidding me with this. Have you actually tried this? It’s available on Google now.

I’ve heard some say that they’re afraid someone will get hold of their phone and enable it without their knowledge or consent. DOH! You leave your Google account information out there for all to see? Afraid they’ll enable it on their account? Lock your phone! Not only that, if you don’t notice that there is extra software on your phone – with a Google icon, perhaps you’re not smart enough for me to listen to your opinion anyhow.

Company cell phone with it enabled? Yup, that sure can happen. The company owns it and has the right to track it, and you on company time. Don’t want to be tracked in your off time? Leave the phone at your desk. Required to take the phone home and don’t like the tracking part? Tough, you took the job. Other than just general privacy concerns for no reason other than bitching cause “I want my privacy”, what do you really have to fear if your boss knows where you are? Seriously. Afraid someone will know you stop at the sex store on the way home? Afraid they might tell your wife where your girlfriend lives? Get a clue. Releasing that information would set them up for a huge lawsuit and they know it. Make sure they know that you know and just stop your pathetic whining.

You ask “Well do you want to be tracked?” It’s already enabled for me, stud. My wife can see where I am, my kids can see where I am. My boss can see where I am. You can’t, tho. My, it’s amazing how that works, isn’t it?

I want privacy as much as the next person, but I don’t whine, moan and gnash my teeth at the spectre (cause the threat ain’t real!) of “someone” knowing where I am at any given point in time – especially when I have nothing to hide whatsoever. I could have an FBI agent follow me 24/7 and really not care. Well, I might care if he/she wouldn’t help me up when I fall on the ice, but other than that they can.

If you’re afraid of a “stalker” following you vis Google – get a grip on reality. It’s MUCH easier to stalk you in person than online, and stalkers always want that personal interaction. Afraid your parents will know where you are? GOOD! You should be and they should know. Don’t like it? Tough! You’re a kid! When my kids are old enough to have phones, you can bet your ass they’re going to have this enabled with dire consequences for getting around it in any way.

Final thought – If you really don’t want to take a chance that anyone will stealth in and get you Googled, set it up yourself and then make sure that it’s turned off so no one can see anything. Then nothing can happen unless you enable it. Don’t trust Google? Idiot! Your personal information is out there in ways Google can’t even compete with. You really think anyone cares that much about your pathetic little lives? Get over yourselves!

GAH! I’m done here. Flame on!

Janet Altman says:

This brings up, well, basic human rights issues. I’m all for the advancement of digital security to protect me, my information, and my assets. But I am not for the use of such technology for the purpose of redefining my rights and freedoms as an individual in a free society.

I’ve read this article at least 10 times this week in other blogs and I will tell you that the reaction has been not mixed at all. People really don’t want the application.

Now if I need to track a criminal or my child (in some cases) or an elderly person with alzheimers…sure.

An article about these issues would be greatly appreciated.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’ve read this article at least 10 times this week in other blogs and I will tell you that the reaction has been not mixed at all. People really don’t want the application.

Really?!? I’ve seen plenty of excitement and praise for the app:

This brings up, well, basic human rights issues

How so? If you are not being forced to use it, how in the heck is it a human rights issue?

I’m all for the advancement of digital security to protect me, my information, and my assets. But I am not for the use of such technology for the purpose of redefining my rights and freedoms as an individual in a free society.

Exactly what rights and freedoms are being redefined here?!?

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

But We Said That!

“I’ve read this article at least 10 times this week in other blogs and I will tell you that the reaction has been not mixed at all. People really don’t want the application.

Now if I need to track a criminal or my child (in some cases) or an elderly person with alzheimers…sure.

But that’s just what we said in our article. This is an OPTIONAL service. It’s a tool. The guy above had it right when he noted we all have knives. You can kill yourself with it, or use it to slice bread. Similarly, this tool has uses, and is great when you need it. Otherwise, you just turn it off.

There are much more interesting privacy discussions we could have instead of talking about Google Latitude. Sure, this involes privacy issues, but not in a vital, rights-changing, interesting way.

AnonCow says:

I don’t give a shit where you are and I’m not telling anyone where I am. What kind of morons actually care about location sharing?

If you actually use this technology, I hope you get killed by a stalker that has tracked you down while your house gets robbed by someone that knows you aren’t home while a process server that has hacked Google hits you with a subpoena.

I guess a country that allowed the Patriot Act to happen can’t be expected to really understand the concept or value of privacy.

Robert Lendvai (user link) says:

What Google Latitude Means for Apisphere.

Derek, thanks for the insightful post. Coming from an LBS enterprise mobile company it was great to see how you drilled into the opportunities that exist to create location-smart mobile apps that go way beyond friend-finding.

I’ve posted a short blog about your piece at

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