Google Latitude Introduces Auto-Checkins

google-latitudeThe location-based frenzy has gotten really interesting over the past 12-18 months, and gets more interesting almost daily, especially with the latest ‘check-in’ bonanza. However, current iterations, such as Foursquare, GoWalla, and GetGlue all require you to manually click the ‘check-in’ button. It requires you to do something to share your location with whatever group you’ve chosen.

Last Tuesday, though, Google upped the ante with a new version of Google Maps for the Android operating system, with a new version of Google’s Latitude location-based service baked right in. Latitude was launched a long time ago and allows you to share your location in real-time with chosen friends. Thankfully, there are granular controls, so for each specific friend, you can choose the accuracy to which they can see your location. I have some close friends who get my exact coordinates, while most anyone else can simply see the city that I’m currently in.

Until Tuesday, Latitude simply let you ‘be’ at a place – there was no concept of checking-in or any of that. Tuesday’s update, though, not only added the ‘check-in’ functionality, but went a step further to let you automatically check-in to approved places, get notifications if you’re nearby a place to check-in, and the ability to automatically check you out of a location when you leave.

1. Notifications – This is the first thing that I can see Google exploiting with its ad service. The application can now pop up a notification if you’re near a place, to see if you want to check-in. They’re currently pushing this as a reminder service, but it won’t be long before you see sponsored notifications – alerting you to a certain special or coupon for a nearby business. There are definite pros and cons to this, but that’s another post for another day.

2. Automatic Check-Ins – this is quite cool if you’re one who gets annoyed by people walking into a business and immediately dropping their face to their phone to check-in and alert the world of their whereabouts. Wisely, Google made this an opt-in feature, and only for approved places (home, work, your regular bar, etc).

3. Automatic Check-Outs - This is my favorite part, and the one that’s the most relevant to the location-based services industry, in my opinion. It’s also the one that Google is likely hoping you’ll use the most. Basically, because Latitude tracks you real-time, it knows when you leave a location, as well, and can automatically check you out. This adds a relevant time-based layer to check-ins. With Foursquare, for instance, you might be able to see that I checked into Rahr Brewery an hour ago. You’re left to wonder if I’m still there, or if I’ve already left. With Google Latitude, my phone would automatically update that check-in with the information that I’ve left, providing more useful information.

Don’t be fooled, though – Google wants you to use this to get an additional valuable piece of information – how long you stay at places. Google would soon know (and could sell this information to advertisers) that while males age 25-30 in the Fort Worth area spend an average of 1.3 hours at the Rahr Brewery on Saturday afternoons. The amount of time you spend there is nearly as important to advertisers as the fact that you’re there in the first place is.

I’ve tested this out a bit, but am hesitant to really use it without having a better understanding of who is seeing what. Location is a very powerful tool, and can also be exploited quite quickly and easily. It’s clear that this isn’t the first (or the last) example of location-based services toeing the line between useful and an invasion of privacy. What do you think of this? Are you excited about the possibilities, or more concerned for your private details?

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