Wednesday, February 4, 2009

New Google Maps tool allows mobile phone users to share location with friends

It seems today's buzz centers around a new service called Google Latitude that's designed to help users share their whereabouts, along with photos and short updates, with a small group of friends and family members.

Now, it appears, at first glance, that there are a number of features built in to protect users’ privacy. For instance, users must opt in to the service, which only shares their location with people they allow to see it. Google only stores a user’s last recorded location, making it impossible for the company to follow someone’s whereabouts over time.

Still, based on the fact that users must connect to their Google accounts to initiate the service –such as those used for Gmail – the location information could be linked to data about other things people do online.

I suspect, and I'm just getting wind of this, this particular loophole may not sit well with some users and privacy advocates already concerned about the volumes of data the search giant keeps.

We should also be honest about this. The real motive behind offering such a tool is the potential advertising boon of delivering ads based on where people are in real-time...just imagine!

I should also say, on numerous occasions I would have found this technology to be of use, like when I'm trying to meet friends at a party or bar, or even say a rock concert, or camping trip.

I found this little post by ReadWriteWeb’s Rick Turoczy on how privacy might be threatened by Google Latitude. He says it’s all about the data:

For millions of users, Google already knows how they search, what they click, what they buy, who they know, how they communicate, and where they go on the Web. Location enables them to add another critical data point - where they are when they’re performing any of those actions. So if you think Google has too much information about you already, you’ve got another think coming.

Long story short, Latitude adds a whole new level of complexity to Google’s understanding of you and your habits. And while we’ll no doubt derive some very interesting benefits from sharing that information, we should hold no illusions about the value of that data to Google and its efforts to run a profitable business.


But it's also a leap of faith as a user, entrusting Google with yet another piece of data that helps them figure out the puzzle of understanding you - and how and where you're likely to perform actions that put money in Google's pocket. It will be interesting to see where Google goes with this one - and interesting to see where you're going, now that we can look over your shoulder.

The UK's Guardian reports:

The new feature, dubbed Latitude, is part of the Google Maps 3.0 software update, and will initially only be available on BlackBerry mobile phones and those devices running the Windows Mobile and Symbian S60 operating systems. It will be rolled out to iPhone and Google Android users in the coming weeks.


Once users sign up to Latitude, an icon representing their position, and the position of friends and contacts, will appear on the Google Maps software on their mobile phone. It can even provide directions to help users navigate their way to their friend’s location, and users can click on a friend’s icon to call, text, and email them, or send an instant message. There is also the option to add a “status update”, so that users can see what their friends are doing.


...Google currently has no plans to make its latitude service work with third-party websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, because of the need to stringently manage the privacy needs of users.

I personally don't know all the ramifications, both pro and con, of this technology yet. I'll be interested to dig a little to find out whether ALL the proper safeguards are included, or whether there might be some areas that are still lacking.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

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