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

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.
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive

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.

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