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Google Latitude: A monumentally bad idea? February 5, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Tech tips.

The folks at Google have just announced a new tool called Google Latitude. Maybe it’s just me, but I think this is just a really bad idea. It uses GPS to allow you to track your friends’ locations – and could be used for nefarious purposes by stalkers and crazy exes.

From the Google RSS feed:

Gmail is about keeping you in touch with the people you care about, independent of the large, or sometimes small, distances that might separate you from them. That’s precisely why email, IM, and voice and video chat are so powerful — the “where” is irrelevant.

With Google Latitude, a new feature on Google Maps for mobile and a gadget for iGoogle coming out today, we’re kind of turning that idea on its head, making the “where” matter again. Latitude allows you to see where your friends are located in real time on a map, anywhere in the world.

Latitude is a free tool that works on smartphones and PCs. If they have Latitude installed, users can use GPS and Google Maps to track other friends who are using the service. The service is an opt-in service, so people have to sign up for Google Latitude to be tracked . They can also limited exactly who can track them, and where they can be tracked. I can just see someone not knowing how to turn it off once they try it – or sometime taking their phone and installing it without their knowledge.

So what do you think? Do you think you might have a need for a tool like this? I don’t have any crazed stalkers or exes, but I still won’t be using this. I and most Americans value our privacy, so I honestly don’t think this will work.



1. therealpotato - February 5, 2009

I could see it being useful in specific instances, but I mostly find this scary too. I used to work at a domestic violence shelter and this would pretty much be the staff’s worst nightmare.

2. Kevin Lossner - February 5, 2009

Nope, this one is evil.

3. Susanne Aldridge III - February 5, 2009

I am already freaked out by the street view which I find a tremendous invasion into my privacy. I can see uses for Latitude, for example parents using it with their kids or even “tracking” employees on the road – as long as everyone knows about it and it is not used as a tool to spy on people. In general, if I was traveling a lot – I mean “on-the-road sales person a lot”, I don’t think I would mind if my husband or close friends would know where I am. Unfortunately, the abuse potential of this function seems huge.

4. John Rawlins - February 6, 2009

Made for worried mums was my first thought. I have tested this on my Blackberry and I was very impressed. It doesn’t actually rely on GPS, but manages to calculate your approximate location from your nearest mobile telephone transmitter. Sometimes the calculation is very approximate.

I lead a very transparent life and I really couldn’t care who knows where I am at any given moment. Don’t forget that many worried parents will find great reassurance in knowing where their children are during the weekend. It will also make meeting friends and organising social events easier.

I can see that this isn’t for everyone. But it must be remembered that you have to opt in for Latitude and you can always opt out.

5. jillsommer - February 6, 2009

@John – I lead a transparent life too, but that is not what concerns me. What concerns me are the tech-unsavvy women/men who are not aware that their tech-savvy spouse has opted them in and walk around blissfully unaware that their moves are being tracked. Technology advances too fast for most average people to keep up with it. My parents can’t operate their DVD recorder, and my mother doesn’t even know how to call up her voice mail on her pre-paid cell phone. I think the folks at Google don’t take those people into consideration. They are all tech-savvy so they assume everyone else is. If we don’t say “stop” at some point Big Brother will definitely be watching us sooner than we think. In some cases he already is. A line needs to be drawn somewhere.

6. Corinne McKay - February 6, 2009

I agree, personally I find this beyond my level of comfort with having my privacy invaded (and I’m actually OK with supermarket discount cards and things like that), *but* I might feel differently if my kid were old enough to stay home alone or go out without adult supervision, or if I had an elderly parent who was prone to wandering off. I agree, the biggest issue with these advances is to people who just don’t understand them; the other day I was talking to a reasonably technically savvy person who had no idea that reverse phone number lookup (which allows you to enter a phone number and find out the name and address associated with it) existed, yikes!

7. Tom Ellett - February 9, 2009

Interesting (and disturbing) that Google can provide such a service free, whereas the Canadian cellphone companies still lack the ability to trace the location of 911 callers, even though their customers pay a monthly 911 fee. The government recently gave the cellphone companies a year to get their act together.

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