How Location Based Services Saved My Life

Sitting here in Automattic offices in San Francisco, I find myself lovingly caressing my Blackberry which, for a short time yesterday, I believed was separated from me for good. Turns out I lost it the night before and was having phantom spasms over not having it in my pocket to check email, twitter or do other activities I would normally engage in with my long-time partner and friend.

As I arose from my grogginess yesterday morning, my first instinct was to reach for my Blackberry to ascertain important overnight occurrences. You know, such as what drunken text messages I might have sent or had sent to me, what the final score was on the Red Sox game or who was talking about me on Twitter. It’s a hard habit to break so when I realized my phone was nowhere to be found, I panicked.

Then I remembered Google Latitude, the new mostly useless location based service announced earlier this year. Google Latitude has a small piece of software that can be installed on [supported] phones. It uses GPS or cell tower triangulation to pinpoint the location of a person. As I’m a Verizon Wireless customer, the only option I have is cell tower triangulation. So I can be pinpointed to an area.
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In a stroke of brilliant genius, I logged onto Google Latitude from my computer in the hotel. There were only so many places the phone could be. The last place I wanted to see it was in the back seat of the cab that had given me a ride home the previous night.

Fortunately, I was pinpointed (inaccurately because it was more my phone was pinpointed in Fisherman’s Wharf at the In n Out Burger that I had enjoyed a west coast delicacy the night before. I thought.

Fortunately, upon arrival at the In n Out Burger, the store manager did indeed have my Blackberry and I was able to carry on with my life.

This is a great example of how location based services can actually be useful. Instead of simply inviting the stalkerati or providing an unnecessary window into the life of the user, it is a good way for employees or assets to be tracked inexpensively. If you run a courier service, company-issued phones with Google Latitude might be a handy way to streamline your business operations.

Google Latitude is not the only “homing beacon” service out there. Tomorrow, with the launch of the iPhone 3G S, Apple is also introducing “Find my iPhone” with MobileMe which will pinpoint the location of a lost or stolen iPhone. Clearly a different benefit to the argument of value surrounding location based services

13 Replies to “How Location Based Services Saved My Life”

  1. LOL, I thought it actually saved your life. Like you were being hunted down by someone and it gave you an escape route. With that said- it was pretty impressive how it helped you.

  2. I have to wonder if their are any security risks with something like this. Is there any way that people can hack into it and see your every move? I think if the information is there, someone could potential have access to it if they tried hard enough. Or maybe I’m just paranoid!

    1. Yes, I think that this may be a problem too. But unless you are not a valuable “hitman” target I think that you should not worry about it. Also, be sure to forget your phone home if you lie to your wife about where you are going…

  3. Glad you got the Blackberry back. I lost mine once by setting it down inside a convenience store. I remembered within a few minutes and hightailed it back there to find it still sitting on the shelf. Now I wear it in a holster on my hip and I am more mindful.

    Not a big fan of the geolocator capabilities, but then, I was slow to embrace caller-id.

  4. Thanks for reminding me how sucky technolgy can be once you leave the good ol USA. MobileMe even GoogleSMS are only dreams here. Oh well at least I get to home for the holidays and play with iPhone “advanced” features.

  5. Location tracking can be great, if you can get over the big brother concept. I’ve heard several instances from lost phones to car accidents where having a phone, a GPS, etc has helped someone in need. Yes, I’m counting losing your phone as being in need. :)

  6. I realized my iPhone was missing last week while dining @ Coastal Flats in Tysons. Fortunately, I ran back to the store I was just in and retrieved it from the clerk (a lesson not to text while in the dressing room!). But if my phone were to be missing in the future, now I know a few fancier tips :)

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