Are there any business applications for Google's new location service, called Latitude?
Well, sure. As Dan Olds, principal analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group, tells Computerworld:
Businesses can watch employee movements across the world or inside a particular facility. It will allow them to quickly dispatch, for example, the closest service person to a customer location. With Latitude, it can be done without taking the time to call service people to find out if the workers actually are where they think they are. The company will automatically know.
At least it will unless employees choose to use a feature that lets users lie about their whereabouts. As a VP of Google's engineering team points out, users can manually change a setting so it shows them as somewhere other than their actual location. And would there be any doubt that this is an option workers might be tempted to use, considering the pushback that often accompanies this kind of monitoring by employers?
Using Latitude, folks can track the locations of designated users through their mobile devices. They can also communicate with them via SMS, Google Talk or Gmail. A beta version of this tweak to Google Maps was released a year ago. The usage examples mentioned by Google including seeing if a loved one is stuck in traffic or hititng the tarmac after a long flight. The Google VP calls Latitude "a fun way to feel close to the people you care about." You know, like stalking. I do appreciate that the Computerworld article, in one of the finest examples of understatement I've ever seen, notes that "the tool isn't for everyone all the time."
Because of its price (free), Latitude might be an option for small companies or business units of larger companies interested in tracking key employees, but I'm guessing that the fuller-featured variants of location software already on the market would better suit the needs of most companies with larger workforces. When I interviewed a provider of such software called Xora back in 2007, its product features included a route optimization tool that made route assignment more efficient, a mileage tracking tool that simplified mileage reimbursement and routine maintenance checks, and a tool that integrated with payroll systems to help automate the pay process.
In comparing the two, it's fairly easy to see that Latitude wasn't designed to be a business tool. So, it's just another free consumer convenience provided by those cool dudes and dudettes at Google, right? Get real. As Mike Elgin writes on Datamation, it's another way of making its advertising services more attractive to companies willing to pay big bucks for the right context. How valuable would it be for the Gap to know you are entering a mall where one of its stores is located? Elgin zeroes in on the chat feature (Google Talk). Imagine how much more valuable it would be to know your location if Google and its advertising customers also knew what you were saying to your friends. If you're in a nightclub district asking your pals to meet you for a drink, it's a safe bet that advertisers would be happy to send some promotions your way.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Depends on how you look at it, as I've written before.
If this is Google's plan and it works, writes Elgin, Google will become "what it has always wanted and intended to become, which is an advertising gatekeeper as indispensable as Microsoft is (or was) with Windows, Apple is with downloadable music or Amazon.com is with online book sales."
Google hopes to achieve this aim by lowering our resistance to having our privacy invaded, he opines. With each cool new free tool like Google Maps there is a fleeting moment of mild shock, followed by acceptance. We, all of us, are the product that Google sells to advertisers. He writes:
Google Latitude isn't a product. It's an automated product-development tool. Its purpose is to soften resistance to constant location tracking. Once we're all enjoying and depending upon Google Latitude for work, to keep in touch with our kids and to meet up with friends and family, Google will drop some advertising in there. And, oh, boy will it be contextual.