Google Latitude launches – Meets criticism already

1984, anyone?

Google Latitude in hot water alreadyGoogle launched Latitude earlier this week, a mobile phone tracking service, which can pinpoint users locations to as close as just a few metres on an online map. Latitude is intended to allow family members and friends to track each other, and only when both parties consent to this. But it has already faced a backlash, calling into question how secure it is, and how easy it would be to abuse the new service. Although the technology behind Latitude and GPS tracking isn’t something new, and there are other mobile phone tracking services available, because Google is behind this one, it has garnered more interest and criticism.

Examples of legitimate usage, as Google have suggested, are parents wanted to see where their children are, or friends wanting to meet up and see where each other are. But coming up with the not so legitimate uses doesn’t take a wild leap in imagination.  Google are keen to point out though, that the service is an opt-in one, and you can restrict who sees your location within your friends list. A spokesman from Google had the following to say about Latitude:

“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.”

One group in particular has been quite vocal in pointing out the dangers of Latitude, and have claimed that they found a major security flaw in it just one day after the service launched. Privacy International, a human rights group, claim that Google have failed to safeguard against a second party activating Latitude on an owner’s mobile phone without their consent. Once Latitude is activated there is a good chance that this would go undetected by the owner, and the phone would subsequently be broadcasting the owner’s location. An example of a scenario where this could happen could be when someone is wanting to spy on their partner and where they were going. Privacy International say that Google are aware of this flaw and haven’t done enough to safeguard against it. The Director of Privacy International, Simon Davies, said:

“Many people will see Latitude as a cool product, but the reality is that Google has yet again failed to deliver strong privacy and security. The company has a long way to go before it can capture the trust of phone users. As it stands right now, Latitude could be a gift to stalkers, prying employers, jealous partners and obsessive friends. The dangers to a user’s privacy and security are as limitless as the imagination of those who would abuse this technology.”

We expect social networkers to pick up on the new service quite quickly, as they did with Facebook and myspace.  But it does make one wonder how much of their personal lives are users of these technologies willing to make so public? From personal tastes, family news, personal photos through to personal thoughts, all these can be found online, just an invite away. Now we can even keep tabs on other peoples movements, where does it all stop?

Do you see yourself using Latitude? Or do you think it’s yet another tool to keep tabs on us? Discuss in our forums here. You can read the full article on Latitiude by Privacy International on their website.