Latitude Media Coverage Needs More Latitude

A product launch from Google is accompanied by a massive media campaign that reaches far beyond the techy demographic; Google is a consumer brand these days and their messaging generates headlines in both traditional and new media. This is a good thing; right?

It's certainly high profile messaging, Ted Dziuba writing in the UK based Register with less than his usual profanity laden prose, first brought the term Googasm to my attention and the recent launch of Google Latitude certainly has all the hallmarks of Googasm, but this has rapidly turned into an inverse Googasm of shrill, rhetoric laden, fin de siecle doom with the BBC commencing and London's Metro newspaper going way overboard.

  • Spy in your pocket?
  • Google spying on workers?
  • People covertly tracking you after leaving your phone in a bar?
  • Suspicous partners tracking their loved ones?

Please. This is certainly media coverage, but is it good coverage? Compare and contrast with Yahoo's launch of the Fire Eagle location brokerage service last year. Whilst there were privacy concerns raised at the time, the Fire Eagle team's common sense and honest approach to user privacy has quietened all but the shrillest of critics.

So let's have some sanity on the discussion of Latitude and of location privacy in general. Latitude is certainly the beginning of a major play in the location space for Google but ... * Latitude requires users to download and install a stand alone app onto their mobile handset. * Latitude's social permissioning is on a per-user basis with no categorisation, fine tuning or broad controls such as that found in Fire Eagle. * Latitude does not take your location to other applications such as BrightKite, Twitter or Fire Eagle. Yet. Given Google's closed approach in other fields this may be an unlikely development but one which users are already asking for. * Latitude generously fuels the paranoia of Google owns all your data ... now including where you are. The question is not so much should you share your location but should you share your location with Google? * Latitude does not have an API or web service. Yet.

Now both Google and Yahoo! have problems with their launch announcements, a point which Robert Scoble made when Latitude and Search Pad coincidentally launched on the same day. But I have difficulties with Scoble's conclusions on this. Scoble argues that Yahoo's problem is that stuff is launched in selective or private beta while Google launches a complete product. But the approach taken between Yahoo! and Google differs substantially. Yahoo!, especially with their Open strategy, releases stuff targeted at the developer community with APIs and web services leading the way. Contrast this with Google's approach who launch consumer facing applications first and serve the developer community later, if at all.

Google's entry into the location was never a case of if and much more a case of when and it's certainly not the end of the location space as we know it. Fire Eagle's remit and scope is significantly different from Latitude's, though it's true there is some overlap. But there will be some casualties, of which Loopt will probably be the first alas.

Google's consumer brand ensure launches garner a blaze of publicity but as Latitude has shown, the mantra "all publicity is good publicity" is not always true. Everyone I've spoken to has certainly heard of Latitude but it's "that thing from Google that tracks me".

Disclosure; I currently work for Yahoo! as part of the Geo Technologies group whose products includes Fire Eagle and I update my location via Fire Eagle many times a day; the views expressed in this post are purely my own and not that of Yahoo! or the Yahoo! Geo Technologies group. So now you know.

Gary Gale

I'm Gary ... a Husband, Father, CTO at Kamma, geotechnologist, map geek, coffee addict, Sci-fi fan, UNIX and Mac user