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Friday, February 6, 2009

Google Latitude… friend or foe?

Google has created a new service called Google Latitude. It basically uses information from your cell phone about the GSM antenna or the wifi network you are connected to, to publish your position so anyone you want can see it at any time.

In principle it is cool. As Google announces in its promotional video, you can see where your buddies are drinking beer, if your parents are back from holidays or if a friend of yours is in the beach or toasting under the sun in Egypt...

But the first thing that makes you suspicious is when you access the link of Google Latitude and the map shown at the top of the post is exactly the area you are at as you read this. Did you think it was a causality? It is not. Did you know that Google could locate you with so much precision? nope? Now you do...

New let's take another point of view. Assuming none of us has anything to hide (or maybe yes?) there are many situations in which this little app can cause us trouble.

Scenario 1: All the college buddies go out for beers and add to each other into Latitude to share your position at all times. As soon as he sees you using it, the classic nerd that exists in all gangs sends you his position ipso-facto and of course invites you to share yours. What should I do? He is a nerd, alright, and by no mean I want him to know where we hang around. But he is no out of our circle enough as to openly say no. In addition he has a cool convertible which has proven itself handy in multiple ocassions involving chicks. Damm it! What can I say him...

Scenario 2: After the insistence of your wife, as you can, you explain to your father-in-law how the thing works and taking your father-in-law's cell phone you add him to the service so you can know when they are back from holidays, or where the hell that organized tour has taken them. As they leave the door, you grab the keys of the house in the mountains and plan to spend an unforgetable weekend with your couple and some other friends. Your father-in-law does not like you there, since you he collects deer's heads he really appreciates and does not want any incident with them.... As your girl's parents are on the travel another elderly man shows them how he is using Google Latitude to control where his 20 year old son spends the night and where he goes for drinks. Your beloved father-in-law remembers you installed something like that in his phone and bingo! he finds out how to use it. Suprisingly enought Latitude places you directly in a spot in the Mountains very familiar to him... He picks the phone and call: "hello son, where are you and my daughter" "Nah, bored in the city, there is nothing to see here"... opsss

Scenario 3: You get your new last generation company cell phone. Cool! The boss is a nice guy after all... kind of. You want to show it to your buddies and meet with them in the bar. Beer after beer time goes by and the afternoon is gone. You think "bah, I will see those clients tomorrow". Meanwhile, your boss who, you don't know, but has been spending all afternoon watching how his salesmen move, sees that your picture is suspiciously still in an area close to your neighborhood and in which there are not any companies at all. He calls you and... "yes, Mr. Anderson. Still waiting to be received... 5 clients today and all the same. More than half an hour waiting and then nothing... this crisis is driving everybody crazy..." opsss again.

I am sure you can think of many more scenarios like these, so I invite you to write them as comment of this post...

As you can see, these cases don't necesarily belong to someone with a secret life and lovers in 3 cities, nor a psycopath nor anyone too weird. In addition, there are situation in which we can see ourselves in trouble only because the service exists. If a friend of yours, innocent as a baby, decides to give his position to his girlfriend or wife at all times (or boyfriend/husband, this also applies to girls), if she tells your girlfriend/wife and she asks you for the same... what will you say?

And not only that. Before, the "secret" of our position could also serve as approval mechanism for anyone to phisically reach us. Not anymore. Now if you go to play tennis with friends, or shopping with other girls, will you want another friend you didn't invite to appear sudenly without warning, only because he or she was close, and he felt like sharing the gift of his/her presence with you?

And we didn't speak about what Google is going to do with all this information. I am not saying if it is good or bad, it can certainly do many things. Google assures that they won't store the history of our positions, but if they keep the history of searchs, why not? It is not just that they know where you are now. They also know where you were on day D, at any time. Will they be forced to provide this information to the FBI? for sure...

Finally, for commercial purposes, possibilities are infinite, and that's why the created it, of course. What if, as you are checking your friend's position, you see an offer from the shop across the street. And what if they announce the daily menu in the restaurante below the office? Or if there is a 50% discount in electronics in the shop which is close to you gym? It could be interesting... but it is scary to think that we can be so easily manipulated, isn't it?

Well, there you go! Enjoy it. I look forward to see your experiences - imagined or real - written as comments in this post.



Related articles:
Privacy concerns arise over Google Latitude
Privacy group calls Google Latitude a 'danger' to security
Google Latitude could throw up serious privacy issues
Privacy Lobby Slams Google Latitude

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