Spy on Your Workers With Google Latitude

How small businesses can use this new tool.

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It will be interesting to see how Google's new geo-locator service, called Latitude, plays with small business. Launched yesterday, Latitude transmits the user's location back to Google for display using the service's online maps.

The location information comes from a GPS-equipped Smart phones or by triangulation using cell towers. An opt-in service, Latitude also works with laptop computers.

It's easy to think of business uses for Latitude, such as tracking service people as they move from call-to-call. Delivery vehicles might also be tracked, and the service could also be used to make certain the closest resource is always sent to a customer's request.

And I haven't even touched on the value of tracking specific people, certain to be a boon to the personal assistants and group admins of the world. I suppose bosses could also use the service to keep an eye on their charges to make sure they are where they are supposed to be.

The business value of Latitude only works if the service updates frequently enough to be useful in near real-time. It also lacks the bells and whistles associated with commercial vehicle tracking systems.

Those systems are expensive, however, and since Latitude is from Google you can bet the price will be right. I would not be surprised, however, to see application developers build commercial versions of the service sometime later.

The downside of Latitude is the amount of extremely personal information, such as the details of all a person's travels that is sent to Google. I know people who simply don't trust Google to not become evil, if the company hasn't already. They wonder why the company offers so many free applications unless it has some way to monetize them that isn't obvious to the user.

Latitude also doesn't seem very well-suited for tracking a large number of people at once, though I could be mistaken about this.

As soon as it's available for the iPhone, I plan to test Latitude is a real world application. My wife works for an Emergency Medical Services provider and carries a second-generation iPhone with the built-in GPS receiver. I'll be interested to see how well Latitude keeps up with her ambulance as it goes out on runs.

You might want to try a similar test in your organization. I am pretty sure that business will find some most useful applications for Google Latitude. Please tell me about yours.

David Coursey is a 25-year veteran of the tech world, as well as a talk radio host.

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