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Trust is key for location-based search

Says Google executive

Google's head of mobile services is looking for your trust.

Sharing your current location with Google, that well-known data-hoarder, might seem unattractive to some people. But greater trust could open the way to a whole range of location-based services, said Deep Nishar, Google's mobile product management director.

"Technology is available to tie location with what kind of searches you provide and what kind of results you provide," Nishar said in an interview yesterday. "However, that depends on what the mobile operator is willing to provide to a service provider such as Google, and also on the privacy laws of the country."

The approximate location of a mobile phone user can be determined using the mobile phone masts to which the phone connects, and some advanced handsets include GPS receivers capable of accuracy to the nearest few metres.

Armed with this information, results from searches on mobile phones could be tailored to the location of the user at that time. For example, a search for a bookstore or restaurant would count the closest shops as the most relevant, while a search for a film would provide a list of starting times at local cinemas. However, in many countries local laws or privacy concerns stop carriers from sharing location data.

For that to change, companies such as Google and mobile phone carriers will have to gain the acceptance of users, said Nishar.

"It's more a matter of trust and really understanding," he said. "People don't think twice about giving their credit information online but they might think twice about saying, 'Oh, I'm driving here and I don't want that to be known.'"

A possible solution would be to offer users a choice over when such information is shared.

"If users could say, 'Okay, right now I am willing to let people know where I am but another time I want to turn that ability off', then that might also provide a better opportunity for widespread use of that service," said Nishar.

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