This week, Google announced their new Latitude software that finds and tracks people by using GPS systems and cell tower triangulation. It also uses Google’s mapping software for mobile phones.
It is billed as a way to keep track of your friends and to let your friends keep track of you, ala the twitter microblogs where everyone “tweets” throughout the day to update their friends on what their doing or the interesting websites/articles they’ve stumbled across. For some this is a natural extension of Twitter and the bare-it-all-on-Facebook mindset. Others see it as a huge invasion of privacy.
While this may be true, the strategy is brilliant sly. Remember how Google makes money? By sending contextually relevant advertisements to you, wherever you happen to be. Initially it was on their search engine and then began to expand to other websites and blogs. They offered gmail so they could capture more of your attention and provide very contextually relevant advertisements. Now they’re offering docs and apps, all to capture a greater share of your attention.
What is the next frontier? Mobile advertisements. To make them contextually relevant, they need to either use speech recognition or mobile tracking. Enter Latitude and voila, they have mobile tracking. If they had said they were going to be doing mobile tracking to serve ads, everyone would be in an uproar right now. However, by disguising it as the next logical extension of social networks, they have all but bypassed people’s privacy concerns. They’ve reached a younger, profitable audience that doesn’t care about privacy.
As a customer strategy, this move is incredibly brilliant. They’ve hit upon a couple of major value drivers for their segment: the need to be connected with their peers, and the voyeuristic desires that make the reality TV shows so popular. They’ve positioned the product perfectly so their customers WANT to sign up and give away their privacy.
Just wait. Google is going to dominate the mobile advertising market within the year.
To use Latitude, people has to sign up for the service. Through the Google account, one can enable the software and set the level of privacy by allowing or not allowing people to see your location.