Are you a legal professional? Visit our professional site

"Latitude" from Google Can Turn Mobile Devices into People-Trackers, Raises Privacy Concerns

Article Placeholder Image
By Admin on February 05, 2009 8:34 AM

Some parents are understandably concerned with their kids' use of the Internet, but the AP reports that Google is reaching out to parents and others with a new feature called "Latitude" that enables "people with mobile phones and other wireless devices to automatically share their whereabouts with family and friends."

CNN wrote about how Latitude functions, as well as what types of devices can use it:

"Latitude is part of Google Maps for Mobile, the company's mapping software for mobile phones, but also can be used through a gadget loaded onto its iGoogle customized home page. It'll work in 27 countries at launch, Google said.

Initially, it will work on most color-screen BlackBerry phones, most phones with Windows Mobile 5.0 or later, and most Symbian-based devices such as Nokia smartphones. An update to the Google Android operating system now being distributed to the T-Mobile G1 phone also enables it, and iPhone and iPod Touch users will get the option "very soon," Lee said.

Latitude uses Google's technology to judge a user's location not just by GPS satellite, but also by proximity to mobile phone towers and wireless networks."

The privacy implications the come along with a tool such as Latitude are clear. What if you don't want people knowing where you are, for how long, and so on? Google plays down any Orwellian "Big Brother" privacy fears, promising "not to retain any information about its users' movements" and that "[o]nly the last location picked up by the tracking service will be stored on Google's computers", according to a Google product manager. Furthermore, in order for someone to be tracked with the service, they have to sign up for an account and specify exactly who they want to allow to track them.

As far as using the device to keep tabs on tech savvy kids or teens, it looks like there might be a few limitations, as apparently "with the service, you can hide from specific people or disappear altogether. And you can manually set a specific location if, for example, your phone can't show it with sufficient precision or if you wish to tell someone a white lie about whether you really aren't going to go to the candy store."