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Google Latitude

Available now
4th February 2009

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Google Maps is a popular application for mobile phones - Google's latest Maps-based gadget is something called "Google 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.

 Google Latitude Screenshots There's 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 site.

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 pub.

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.


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