What It Means for Businesses
Abner Germanow, director of enterprise networking for IT analyst firm IDC,
said this type of application, though aimed mainly at consumers, can have "very
powerful implications" for small businesses and enterprise-level firms. "Think
about the ability to do fleet tracking across a set of UPS
trucks, or you look at the ability for a small business to have that
capability, that becomes very powerful to know where your employees are."
Germanow said this is only the first step in location-based services. The second step, he said, is having the ability to know what your employees (or globetrotting friends) are doing, and the third step is how they are going about doing it. "From an enterprise standpoint, I want to know my refrigerated truck is at the right temperature; that the beer is cold and the bread is warm," he said. "The ability to start pulling that data in can be very powerful for a business. I think something like Latitude is an interesting experiment in how you pull location data off the devices people use."
Whether or not you want Google to have all that information is an entirely different discussion, he said. "There are a variety of different privacy concerns any time you're looking at these services and what kinds of controls are around them," Germanow said. Because Latitude allows users to employ misdirection (Niagara standing in for Rome, for instance), as a small business application, the issue of employee trust arises.
"That's part of the privacy line they have to straddle: To what degree do you give people control over their data?" he said. "Depending on how people are using it, they're either going to bolster their own reputation as being an upstanding person, or not. That's not something that is the fault of the service; it's an interesting way for Google to deal with some of the privacy implications."
Germanow said that classically, location data is a piece of information that network vendors and network service providers have and could provide in a variety of ways. They've dropped the ball, he said. "Some of that is for regulatory reasons, but it's fascinating that someone like Google hasn't made it ... faster than they have," he said. That's not to say he'd be the first one to load the application onto his or one of his family members' phones. "It might be something I would put on my kids' phone, but I would wait a bit and see if somebody hacks it or breaks into it," he said. "I wouldn't be a first adopter with something like this."