A Little Latitude

Google released Latitude last night – essentially a buddy-finder overlaid on Google Maps and linked to your mobile phone.

Andy\'s spending an awful lot of time cruising gay pickup joints these days

Andy's spending an awful lot of time cruising gay pickup joints these days

The idea is you sign up, invite your pals to track you and they can follow your movements on their mobiles or on PC as broadcast by your mobile – or to be more precise, your Smartphone.

This idea has been a long time coming – I remember working on something similar back in 2000, although this is clearly much slicker using today’s technology and Loopt have had a product in play for 3 years or more. Further back than that, Google also bought the now defunct Dodgeball and proceeded to do nothing at all with it before finally shutting it down.

As you’d expect from the mighty Goog, it’s a well executed application, though it doesn’t really push the envelope of innovation. What it does do though is circumvent the need to use the operators’ location feeds, which gives them a massive advantage in ability to scale over services that rely on operators, like Loopt. Obviously, this needs to be balanced by the fact it only works with Smartphones – but this is the fastest growing sector after all and certainly Android and iPhone owners tend to be power users of their devices, boding well for this venture.

Having said that, I don’t know if it’s my age, my personality or that I’ve got secrets I’m unwilling to go public with (if so, they’re secrets to me too), but I really don’t like this kind of application. I’m happy to share my general location (like City, as provided by TripIt or Dopplr), but I don’t want all and sundry to see when I pop to the shops or collect my kids from school.

I think that, even more than Facebook et al, it opens up new questions of etiquette. If I give you permission to be my friend on Facebook, I’ve agreed to allow you a certain insight into my life. But what information I choose to share is an active decision and is therefore controlled by me. I can decide whether to put up those pictures of me misbehaving at that party, or not.

However, with buddy-tracking, it’s passive and not controlled or edited in any way. There may be times when I don’t want to be tracked, for perfectly innocent reasons – such as popping out to buy my wife flowers. It’s not going to be much of a surprise if she sees where I am. OK, perhaps that level of granularity isn’t there today, but I’m guessing it will in due course.

Obviously, the counter argument is that you can always turn off tracking – but that’s going to look suspicious, no? And how do I explain to one friend that I won’t allow them to track me, when I do give permission to another mutual friend? And then there’s the whole de-friending thing a la Facebook.

Of course, I’m sure many will flock to this service and love it and if you’re under 25, privacy is probably a rather old-fashioned, odd concept anyway, like paying for music or faxing stuff.

But if you do invite me, I’m not accepting I’m afraid, whoever you might be, curmudgeonly or paranoid as it might seem. It’s nothing personal, it’s just not for me. Well, for the moment anyway…

—–>Follow us on Twitter too: @russellbuckley and @caaarlo