Privacy group calls Google Latitude a 'danger' to security

Upgrade to Google Maps lets friends, family, employers know one's every move

A privacy group is calling Google's new mapping application an "unnecessary danger" to users' security and privacy.

The criticism comes just a day after Google unveiled Google Latitude, an upgrade to Google Maps that allows people to track the exact location of friends or family through their mobile devices. Google Latitude not only shows the location of friends, but it can also be used to contact them via SMS, Google Talk or Gmail.

Thursday, Privacy International is raising a red flag about the technology.

"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," said Simon Davies, the director of London-based Privacy International, in a statement. "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."

Google, responding to Computerworld questions in an email, said their engineers and designers took privacy and security concerns into account when they were creating Google Latitude.

"Concerns have been raised about the possibility of the product being installed onto someone's mobile phone covertly," said a Google spokeswoman. "While many of the scenarios that have been described are unlikely, we take this issue seriously and always listen to feedback from our users. We already have a safety feature working on certain mobile devices that actively alerts users that Latitude is running and we are in the process of extending this notification to other mobile platforms supporting Google Latitude, which will be ready within a week."

Privacy International, in an online posting, expressed concern that Google Latitude lacks sufficient safeguards to keep someone from surreptitiously opting in to the tracking feature on someone else's device. The problem arises when someone can gain physical access to another's cell phone.

The privacy group added that the only way to reduce this threat is to have a regular message pop up on the phone, reminding the user that Latitude is in use.

Google's spokeswoman noted that the message that pops on Blackberry devices is engaged when Latitude has been installed but not been used for a while.

That doesn't appear to be an adequate safeguard for the privacy group, which said in a written statement, "If the tracked party is unaware that her phone has been enabled, the Latitude settings could indefinitely be set to continuous tracking, thus ensuring that the alert message is never sent from Google."

In an interview on Tuesday, Dan Olds, principal analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group, said the Google tool is interesting even if there are obvious potential privacy issues when people know your every move.

Olds added that people need to think through who can access such personal information. "Users need to understand how to do it and why they probably don't want to constantly broadcast their locations to the world at large," he said.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags google latitudeprivacy

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?