Google's map-location services: Helpful or just plain creepy?

Google's map-location services: Helpful or just plain creepy?

Summary: Google's location services bring a value-add to the mobile experience, for the most part, but some of that tracking stuff can be just plain creepy.


When it comes to privacy issues, I tend to be less paranoid than most. Maybe it's because I've been careful about the information I share in social networking sites. I have been a longtime user of Google's GMail, fully aware that there's some sort of "observation" of my content going on - otherwise, how would they know which ads to serve up in my emails? Still, even that hasn't bothered me so much.

With that said, I have very mixed feelings about some of the location-based services being offered on smartphones these days. But over the past few weeks, as I've noticed friends providing their whereabouts down to the street address, I've had a bit of an uneasy feeling. On the Nexus One and Android devices I'm using now, I've purposely avoided the activation of Google Latitude, which allows my friends to see my location in real-time.

That's just plain creepy to me.

And yet, I have no problem - none whatsoever - allowing Google to transmit my location over wireless airwaves for the sake of finding the closest gas station, ATM or pizza joint to my location. The latest upgrade to Google's Mobile Maps apps has a beefed up search feature that allows users to pick categories and subcategories - such as Heathcare and Beauty, with subcategories like beauty salons, gyms and pharmacies - and have the list populate with those businesses that are closest to you.

(As a side note, mobile maps users were on the losing end when Google and Yelp couldn't cut a deal late last year. This is exactly the area where Yelp content could have been heavily utilized.)

Now, Google is bringing the "Near Me Now" feature to the general Google search page on iPhone and Android. It's just a link below the search box (after the users activates the location services feature) and, by clicking it, users can easily find nearby banks, restaurants, gas stations and more. (Techmeme)

(Check out the embedded video below for a peek at how it works. Take note of how the review that's highlighted in the video - a review that was a make or break for the couple in the clip - is NOT from Yelp.)

Not only does "Near Me Now" provide a useful service, but it also allows Google to "localize" search results, which in turn leads to more local ads. Local, of course, is a very segmented form of advertising - one that can be quite lucrative - so it makes sense that Google would want a piece of that.

These new location-based services are a real value add to the mapping apps and now search - and I'm more than happy to let Google and my phone know where I am at any given moment. But as for friends, family members, colleagues or anyone else who might be inclined to see where I am at any given moment, I say no thanks.

Sometimes, when I'm lost, I want to stay that way.

Topics: Google, Collaboration, Social Enterprise

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Google's map-location services: Helpful or just plain creepy?

    Creepy. Now Google gets to know exactly where you are at every point in the day. They can now collect more info on you to sell off to 3rd parties while you don't see a dime.
    Loverock Davidson
  • Just plain creepy.

    Like everything else from "Big Brother" Google.
  • Its not creepy. Its a technology being put to a 'good' use.

    Lots of things can be put to a bad use, but they aren't necessarily creepy.

    Seriously, your location via cellphone can be determined anyhow, which if you want to be positive is a good thing--suppose you run off the road in a 'white out' and no one knows where you are--cell phone can be used to find your location. Your life depends on it, in that respect.

    Enough of the FUD.
    D T Schmitz
    • It is not FUD... Giving the Location is not the creepy part...

      The author concerns is not FUD. Giving the Location is not the creepy part per se... (for example, to give you nearby restaurants and ads, or for emergencies - that is what OnStar and the new 911 option in Sync do). The creepy part is letting OTHERS know where You are. You will have even less privacy, or robbers can know when you are not home, or kidnappers locate you.
      Roque Mocan
  • Only creepy if you have something to hide

    Otherwise, why worry about it. Happens either
    • Or if you own anything.

      Or have kids. Or don't want criminals or psychopaths having complete knowledge of your whereabouts.

      It's not a Google thing, a MS thing, or anything of the sort. It's an us thing. How narcisstic can we get? Everyone is so anxious to be heard, to be found, to get attention.

      It's just weird that everyone wants every little piece of information online for "friends". Want to know who's near you? Try talking to them.
  • Very creepy

    Does anyone remember the movie Minority Report? In it, electronic billboards recognize passers by and address them by name. How long before Google begins this, throwing their specifically targeted adds at us everywhere we go?

    In another movie, we were warned about the Big Brother who would always be watching. Back in the day, we thought that was a metaphor for Big Government. Now, it is Google that is All Seeing, All Knowing. Have we reached the time when the world is ruled by giant mega-corporations rather than governments?
    • Re: Very creepy

      Reflect on the bailout of the Financial sector and then ask that question again...
      x I'm tc
  • RE: Google's map-location services: Helpful or just plain creepy?


    I anticipate that Google's "Near Me Now" is something that was always planned with or without Yelp. The bigger issue during 2010 will be the war that will rage for consumer reviews at multiple local business listing websites.

    Google has it's own local business listings and allows consumers to post reviews. So does, Yahoo, Bing, City Search/Ask, Yellow Pages, Yellowbook, and the list goes on. Although, all of these local listing type websites will be seeking out the consumer to visit their website and post a review about a local or small business, I think the local and small business will become overwhelmed trying to monitor all of these websites.

    As you can imagine a solution already exists for the local and small business. At KillerStartUps a company was recently reviewed providing Local Business Listing Management servers for local and small businesses. You can read up on KillerStartUps perspective of this at:

    Although, this will be a time consuming effort for the local and small business to manage their local business listing at multiple websites, this is the first time that the Internet is actually helping the local and small business. Hopefully, this business group can be early adopters for a change and embrace the technology so they can benefit sooner rather than later.

    Great discussion here. Thanks.
  • RE: Google's map-location services: Helpful or just plain creepy?

    I see it as an asset under the proper use case - if I am hiking, mountain biking or road cycling, having my location known by my wife in case of a problem is INVALUABLE. I tell her my routes beforehand, her being to pinpoint my location if I get hurt would give an extra margin of safety.
  • Google Latitude Google Ocean = Real-time Fishing LBS Contents

    Have you heard about Real-time Fishing LBS Contents? We have proposed this Service Model to Google over 4 years ago. Real-time Fishing LBS Contents is Location Based Service for IPTV, WiMAX, Mobile. This Service Model was created in 2002 by I&IWorld. I&IWorld's located in South Korea. As you know, there're many people enjoy fishing in the world(about 5 hundred million). I&IWorld's Real-time Fishing LBS Contents is like these.

    *Main Functions*
    1.The underwater topography and 3D views with fishing spots
    2.Real-time fishing points tracing by GPS and angling direction guide
    3.Service the real-time fishing condition about fishing place(weather, water temp, depth etc)
    4.Angler Social network(such as Second Life)

    Everyone knows that Google motto is, 'Don't be evil.' Is it all right? Visit, and type 'Real-time Fishing LBS Contents'. Search If you need more information, please send your email address.