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Google Latitude not dead despite Buzz

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Web 2.0 Expo Google is pushing ahead with Latitude - the mobile service that tells your friends where you are - despite its high-profile introduction of somewhat similar mobile services that hook into its new Google Buzz social networking setup.

During a panel discussion at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, Google man Steve Lee - who heads the company's mobile geolocation work - insisted that "Latitude is not dead." Lee says that the service has grown 30 per cent per month in 2010, and via the Latitude API the company hopes to turn it into a kind of geolocation platform for an army of third-party mobile applications.

Lee acknowledges that Latitude isn't as popular as Google would like it to be, but he chalked this up to "technical issues as well as other issues" with iPhone support. Famously, Apple did not allow Latitude into the iPhone App Store, and Google was forced to launch it on the Jesus Phone as a browser app.

Despite this, the Google man says, eight million people have activated Latitude, and three million of those are active users. The most popular platforms are Android and Blackberry, with Lee claiming that 10 per cent of all Android users are on the service.

Which just goes to show you how many people don't care about privacy. Latitude doesn't just share your location with friends, it shares it with Google - which is already collecting so much else about everything you do.

That said, Lee points out that about a quarter of all Latitude users don't actually share their location with other users. They merely use the service's private "history" tool to track their own whereabouts. In the next few weeks, Lee says, Google will launch a new history tool that "does some analysis" of location data. "We'll provide some really unique insights into your history, including trips you've taken, how much time you spend at work and at home, and other things."

Lee adds that Latitude users aren't as "engaged" as Google would like them to be. This, he said, is the trouble with Latitude's "passive location sharing" setup. You don't have to tell it where you are. Using GPS, cell towers, and Wifi databases, it determines where you - and tells your friends - on its own. "Because it does passive location sharing, it doesn't require the kind of engagement that a check-in model needs," he said.

Lee declined to comment on additional plans for the service. But he seemed to indicate that the service will eventually allow users to actively input their location as text, a setup popularized by Foursquare, Silicon Valley's social startup of the moment. "Foursquare and other services have definitely shown tremendous value," he said. "That's definitely something we're looking at doing. But I still think there's tremendous value in the continuous sharing model ... I think what you'll see from Latitude is a hybrid model."

Lee believes that thanks to the service's existing setup, you'll see "hundreds if not thousands" of third-party apps using the Latitude APIs to tap the user location. He says the APIs will eventually provide both read and write access, so that third-party apps can provide user locations as well as mine them.

He envisions a world where, say, a bank uses your location to determine when an unauthorized person is trying to tap your account. "You can imagine that with location history - Chase offering a discount to connect their location history into the bank, saving their customers some money and providing a better mechanism for anti-fraud." ®

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