Google launched Google Latitude this week, which allows mobile phones to be tracked within Google Maps. The initial response by non-tech savvy media was to prey on people’s privacy fears. But I have to say Google have got privacy approach right, which is to have the privacy set to “on” as the default position. Most social networking sites adopt the opposite position with privacy settings, for example the privacy default in Twitter is allow anyone to follow your posts, rather than trusted friends.
Let's make the privacy of Google Latitude clear. For any mobile phone to be tracked on Google Maps by Google Latitude, the mobile phone owner must first enable the tracking feature on their mobile phone. The entry of phone numbers via the Google Latitude webpage (see above) is just a misleading rouse, and merely sends a text message with a link to Google Maps to the phone. So you just cannot track anyone or any phone number you want!
The mobile phone user must enable the tracking on the mobile phone itself, and then select who he\she would like to see his location. The default setting is to not allow anyone to track, with the user selecting specific Google friends to be allowed to see his or her location, rather than the entire world. And finally the user can select the level of tracking detail, which for instance can be set to track by city name rather than to specific streets.
My security advice with Google Latitude is to be careful about being too over zealous in who you are allowing to known your location; I mean, do you really want your boss and work colleagues to know where you are at the weekend?
Google Latitude is certainly an interesting tool, sure there are some privacy concerns to think about, but I think Google’s approach is spot on, and it could have some interesting uses, such as tracking where your kids are!