What's Your Latitude?

Ericka Andersen
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Posted: Feb 04, 2009 6:10 PM
Google Latitude, a breakout online tracking feature that allows users to locate people based on cell phones and GPS systems, is futuristically cool but some have concerns over privacy issues. The software was released today and has been marketed as a tool for parents to keep track of their kids and friends to keep up with eachother. It's all the buzz in the PC world today, despite the fact that another software -- Loopt --has been around for several years.

Like its creepy predecessor Google Earth, Latitude's "stalker-like" capabilities seem abrasive. But, the feature is optional and users must give permission to be tracked. Like an away message or a limited Facebook profile, users can also select a "blanket location" to broadcast where they want others to think they are.

Latitude has been described as "location-based Twitter," and receives location descriptions via nearby cell phone towers. The WSJ's report on their testing of Latitude revealed some inaccuracies, including the tracking being off by more than a mile and precision differences depending on cell phone service. (It does not yet work for the iphone, though iphone does have similar applications.)

As hip and networked as Latitude is, does it put us on a pathway to eventual privacy invasion? Even though the program is opt-in only, it could possibly allow hackers and computer savvy predators a way into your personal life. Last year, Google itself said "complete privacy does not exist" and probably isn't very interested in yours.

Cord Blomquist, who has written about Google and online privacy issues before, said "concerns from privacy watchdogs are misplaced here" and that voluntarily sharing information "often makes life more interesting." He also noted how the tool can be used to find crime victims.

So have fun with Latitude but watch who you allow to "follow" you because they might be right behind you.