Google Wednesday unveiled an application that lets users track and find their friends and family from a smartphone, laptop or desktop computer.
Google Latitude is a new feature for Google Maps on mobile devices. It can also be an iGoogle gadget on your computer. Once users opt into Latitude, they can see the "approximate location" of friends and loved ones. Along with showing where friends are on a map, Google Latitude also lets users get in touch with those friends directly via SMS (text messaging), Google Talk, Gmail or by updating your status message. Google said users can also upload new profile photos on the fly.
"So now you can do things like see if your spouse is stuck in traffic on the way home from work, notice that a buddy is in town for the weekend, or take comfort in knowing that a loved one's flight landed safely, despite bad weather," Google said in an announcement.
And before users dismiss Latitude as a stalking mechanism, Google said locations can only be viewed if the person a user is viewing has decided to share where they are.
To further combat any questions around privacy and sensitivity, Google said it has built fine-grained privacy controls into the application. Google also launched a video to offer privacy tips.
"Everything about Latitude is opt-in," Google said. "You not only control exactly who gets to see your location, but you also decide the location that they see."
For example, if someone is in Barcelona, instead of having their location detected and shared automatically, users can manually set their location for somewhere else, like New York City.
"Since you may not want to share the same information with everyone, Latitude lets you change the settings on a friend-by-friend basis," Google said. "So for each person, you can choose to share your best available location or your city-level location, or you can hide. Everything is under your control and, of course, you can sign out of Latitude at any time."
Google launched Latitude in 27 countries, with more to come soon. Users who want to share their location can visit the google.com/latitude from their smartphone's browser to download the latest version of Google Maps for mobile with Latitude.
Currently, Latitude is available for BlackBerry, Nokia S60 and Microsoft Windows Mobile devices. Support for Google Android-based smartphones will launch in the next few days and the Apple iPhone will get Latitude through the Google Mobile App soon.
Users without a smartphone can install Latitude as an iGoogle gadget to their desktop or laptop and share their location from their computer.
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