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February 6, 2009

Google Attacked on Latitude Introduction

Google introduced Latitude earlier this week.  It's a service that lets people track each other through enabled devices, typically a cell phone, with real time location hits through Google Maps.Computerworld has a FAQ on how it works.  The service was immediately attacked by Google nemesis Privacy International.  PI has rated Google low in the past because of its data retention policies.  Those have changed due to European Union directives and newer data analysis techniques which do not require as long a stay on Google servers.

Here PI complains that there is a major flaw in that unsuspecting people may be tracked by malcontents who have access to their phones.  Here are the scenarios as described on the PI web site:

  • An employer provides staff with Latitude-enabled phones on which a reciprocal sharing agreement has been enabled, but does not inform staff of this action or that their movements will be tracked.
  • A parent gifts a mobile phone to a child without disclosing that the phone has been Latitude-enabled.
  • A partner, friend or other person gains access to an unattended phone (left on a bar on in the house) and enables Latitude without the other person’s knowledge.
  • A Latitude-enabled phone is given as a gift.
  • A phone left unattended, for example with security personnel or a repair shop, is covertly enabled.

In the case of the child, I suspect that a parent could force a Latitude enabled phone on the child with or without consent of the child.  A company that provides and pays for cell phones for its employees may be within its rights to track its employees much like a company may monitor a company email account.  It is possible that all of these situations could occur, but they sound a bit too paranoid for real life.  I suggest that anyone with a Latitude enabled check their cell phone from time to time to see if the service is enabled without knowledge.  If that is the situation, go ahead and start asking the messy questions.  If people cheerfully turn this service on, then they should cheerfully accept the consequences.

February 6, 2009 | Permalink

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