Posted February 5, 2009 11:34 am by with 10 comments

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latitude-urhereSeriously—do you know where your friends are right now? Do you want to know? Because with Google’s new Latitude mobile app, you can access the GPS information in your participating friends’ phones. And lest you think Google is making it hard for you to keep tabs on your friends’ every move, they’re incorporating a boat load of other popular products:

  • Gadget on iGoogle (Latitude gadget for your personalized homepage)
  • Text messaging (SMS) through Latitude
  • IMing with Google Talk and Latitude
  • Emailing with Gmail and Latitude
  • Updating your Gmail/Gtalk status message on the go with Latitude
  • Uploading new profile photos on the go with Latitude (we have profile photos?)

If Google’s not trying to become a slightly-creepier version of Facebook/Twitter, they’re certainly fooled me. Fortunately, Google has had enough brushes with privacy watchdogs (and/or hearing me whine about how every single person I’ve ever emailed isn’t actually my “friend”) that they came prepared for this one:

Fun aside, we recognize the sensitivity of location data, so we’ve built fine-grained privacy controls right into the application. Everything about Latitude is opt-in. You not only control exactly who gets to see your location, but you also decide the location that they see. For instance, let’s say you are in Rome. Instead of having your approximate location detected and shared automatically, you can manually set your location for elsewhere — perhaps a visit to Niagara Falls. Since you may not want to share the same information with everyone, Latitude lets you change the settings on a friend-by-friend basis. So for each person, you can choose to share your best available location or your city-level location, or you can hide. Everything is under your control and, of course, you can sign out of Latitude at any time.

I will say this: good on Google for thinking about many aspects of privacy, making sure to make this all opt-in, and giving users a high level of control, all implemented before launch.

My favorite option, though, is the one to download Latitude for your desktop.

Will you be using Latitude?

  • Hundreds of partners are now terrified their loved ones don’t find out about this 😛

  • I really believe that this could be going a step too far. I understand the possible use of location tracking for targetted ads but to use it to follow friends or family would just allow it all to become too Big Brother.

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  • Suzanne

    So it goes on record somewhere – permanently?
    Even if you can set privacy settings?
    Good job we are all decent honest people!
    Just think of the possibilities…Yes officer, I know I was back there 20 mins ago and would have had to drive 2mph above legal speed limit to be here now…
    Already officaldom can look at your call records when tracing possible wrong doings, now they will be able to see where you were when even if you did not make a call.
    Obviously there has never been anyone convicted on the basis of misinterpreted evidence…or has there?

  • Jordan McCollum

    From what I’ve read, it doesn’t make location history publicly available and as it says above, it only shares your current location with people you specify. So if Google, a private company, keeps a history, it would take a warrant for police to get your records, which generally takes more than twenty minutes and generally isn’t worth it for speeding. And I’m told GPS isn’t as accurate as we imagine, either.

    The only real threat I can see here is if the police are disproving your alibi for a pretty heinous crime, and you left your phone at the scene, and you can’t come up with some plausible explanation for your phone being there. Using LUDs doesn’t automatically prove or disprove guilt or innocence, but it can show that a suspect is lying about having (been) contacted someone else.

    Here’s an idea: If you’re about to commit a heinous crime and are planning on establishing an alibi elsewhere, leave your phone turned on across town.

  • Suzanne

    I was joking about the speeding!

    It all goes to build up that big picture that is being created by information from CCTV cameras, driving past speed cameras, using credit cards for parking, cash, shopping, using library card etc.

    My friend got arrested in error at a demo back in 1980’s, she had been head girl at a convent and a perfect citizen. When the police interviewed her within an hour of being arrested they produced an inch thick file – that was in the 80’s!

  • While I agree Google is doing a good job, they are just hurting other peoples privacy. They should be careful with what they offer. These things can be highly misused.

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  • Wouldn’t the satellites that orbit the earth face a massive amount of disruptions when transmitting these data for all people? Just a question though…

    But still it’s great to see Google came up with another quality product.

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  • I just first heard about it in Denmark but I can say it is nice that you can see how one’s children is living but it can also become too much with all the monitoring

  • Stalking? This isn’t new people.To use this system you need the family member or friend’s address. Google Maps already exists. Why are we concerned about the privacy issue? Because now it’s on a phone? Seriously, if people were concerned, then they’d never give out their address or people would be fighting having maps made pubic (digital or hardcopies).