Google is not messing around when it comes to location-based services, as the search giant has just introduced an application-programming interface for its Latitude service. This could be a big deal, folks.
If you’ve never used Latitude, it’s a GPS service that lets you share your location with other phones or desktops. It’s been layered into Google Maps for Mobile for a while but it hasn’t really gained much traction. Google will tell you it has more than 3 million users but most of those have one friend or no friends, which indicates many users turned it on but don’t really care about it.
The API could quickly change that because it allows other app developers to have access to a free, location-sharing ecosystem that is actually pretty good. Someone like Foursquare or Twitter could use this and you’d be able to keep up with yours friends within Google Maps. Even if those services don’t appeal to you, this is a strong move that could open the door for a new generation of location-enabled apps. Google gives a few examples of what’s possible in its blog:
Thermostats that turn on and off automatically when you’re driving towards or away from home. Traffic that send alerts if there’s heavy traffic ahead of you or on a route you usually take based on your location history Your credit card accounts to alert you of potential fraud when a purchase is made far from where you actually are. Photo albums so your vacation photos appear on a map at all the places you visited based on your location history.
Of course, the first concern for most people is who gets control over the privacy and Google is addressing this. It said that “before any application, website, or feature you’ve chosen to use can access your Latitude data, you must specifically grant access to the developer and will see exactly what access or data they’re requesting.” I guess that’s about all you can ask of them but I suspect many will see those warning signs and automatically click “accept,” like most do with end-user license agreements.
This is just another sign that LBS is coming in a big way. Why is Google opening Latitude up? It’s the money, honey. Your location data could be extremely lucrative for advertisers and it just so happens that Google has patented a way to enable location-based advertising.
The search giant isn’t the only one to recognize the mad potential in LBS and I think Facebook will be a major competitor once it finally rolls out its own check-in service. Still, I’ve heard many LBS players tell me the location-relevant advertising is a lot harder to crack than some of us like to say because it requires a ton of boots on the ground, particularly if you’re looking to attract the million of small businesses that aren’t tech savvy.
It will be fun to watch the fight, though.