Google Latitude could throw up serious privacy issues

4 Feb 2009

Google has introduced a new mobile mapping software that allows users to pinpoint exactly where they are on a map via their mobile phones. It bears all the hallmarks of a typical Google success story, but could also open a Pandora’s Box of privacy concerns.

The powerful new software is available in 27 countries and works on Android-powered devices like the T-Mobile G1, most colour BlackBerry devices, most Windows 5.0 devices, most Symbian S60 devices, as well as internet users of iGoogle.

Using your Google account, you can opt into the feature, and then invite friends and family to join Google Latitude.

Once they accept, you will see their profile picture appear on a map through your mobile device or your desktop PC.

“So imagine if you spot your friend in the same neighborhood as you on the map, using Google Latitude you can then click on their icon to call, text, IM or email them. We can also give you directions to their location on the map,” Google said in a statement.

Google said it has worked hard to iron out possible privacy issues and ensure users have complete control over how and when they want to be found.

“Once you’ve shared your location, you can hide it from individual friends or all of your friends at once, or you can turn off Google Latitude completely at any time.

“You can adjust your privacy settings in Latitude so that you share as much or as little about your location as you want, with whom you want,” the company said.

All of this may be reassuring to seasoned technology users, but the ability of people to switch on and off the technology at a whim, or what happens if your device is lost or stolen and falls into the wrong hands still need to be answered.

For a company that has taken on the lofty goal of managing the world’s information, Google Latitude is a welcome step forward in technological capability. But even Google knows that privacy advocates will be looking very closely at this one.

By John Kennedy