How often do you find yourself wondering where your friends are and what they're up to? That is the question Google wants to ask you, and depending on the severity of your Big Brother complex, perhaps you might respond, "All the time!" Regardless of how badly the average person (or businessperson) might need to know where their friends, family or employees are, Google is giving everyone new latitude to do so.
The search engine giant announced Feb. 4 Latitude, a new feature for Google Maps on your mobile device and an iGoogle gadget on your computer. The program allows users to see the approximate location of their friends and family who have decided to share their location. In addition to providing location, Latitude also gives users the ability to get in touch directly via SMS, Google Talk or Gmail, or by updating status messages. Google claims you can even upload a new profile photo on the fly.
Shall we even dare plunge into the plethora of privacy problems a technology such as this presents? Google is already prepared with a response (and YouTube video), it seems. "Fun aside, we recognize the sensitivity of location data, so we've built fine-grained privacy controls right into the application," Vic Gundotra, vice president of engineering for Google's mobile team, wrote on the company blog. "You not only control exactly who gets to see your location, but you also decide the location that they see."
For example, Gundotra suggests a user visiting Rome might in fact have his or her Latitude location registered as Niagara Falls. "Since you may not want to share the same information with everyone, Latitude lets you change the settings on a friend-by-friend basis," he wrote. "So for each person, you can choose to share your best available location or your city-level location, or you can hide."
Latitude is currently available in 27 countries (and 42 languages), with more on the way, according to Gundotra. If you have a mobile smartphone and you get a kick out of telling your friends you're in Rome when you're actually in Canada (or to be fair, upstate New York), you can go here on your phone's Web browser to download the latest version of Google Maps for mobile with Latitude.
Latitude is currently available on BlackBerry, S60 and Windows Mobile, and will be available on Android in the next few days. Gundotra wrote that Google expects Latitude to find its way onto the iPhone through Google Mobile App "very soon."