4th February 2009
Google Maps is a popular application for mobile phones
- Google's latest Maps-based gadget is something called
Latitude" that enables you to share your
location information with friends. The idea is that
your mobile phone reports back your location to Google,
and you can share that information with whomever you
want. It seems like a good idea.. but there's a serious
flaw in the whole concept.
The application forms part of "Google
Maps 3.0" and it should work on most varieties
of Symbian S60, BlackBerry and Windows smartphones,
with support for Android and the iPhone coming soon.
It works better with a phone with GPS built in, else
you have to manually set a location which seems to be
more effort than it is worth.
It's the kind of thing that you either want a lot..
or DON'T want a lot. Google Latitude has the
ability to track where you are down to street level.
You can specify what information you want to share with
whom, and Google say that they only store your current
location on their servers.
also a gadget for iGoogle
(Google's personalised homepage), but that currently
only works on the google.com version and not "local"
sites such as google.co.uk.
Google say that it should only work in the US at the
moment, but we were able to coax iGoogle into displaying
a UK location by using the .com
Who would actually need a tool like this? It isn't
clear - Google's press photos show a map of Manhattan,
so perhaps this is useful for urbanistas. It could certainly
be useful for small businesses or workgroups.. but that
might means no more two hour boozy lunches down at the
We mentioned a serious flaw: it's not privacy.. Google
are not forcing you into this, and their privacy position
is clear and unambiguous. No, the flaw is this - accurate
positioning requires GPS, and GPS does not work very
well when the phone is in a pocket, a bag or indoors.
So a lot of the time, Latitude is going to rely on getting
a fix from a cellular base station. These tend to be
very small in cities, but much bigger away from urban
areas.. so if you are wondering why your contact appears
to be standing in the middle of a muddy field, then
it's because their AGPS has locked onto the base station
location and cannot see the positioning satellites.
That having been said, if the GPS is active, then you
can get a fix to within a few metres.
Google Latitude is available to download now. There's
also a video clip of it in action here
and a privacy guide available here.