Analysts, observers and pundits are trying to grapple with the implications of Google’s Latitude, which is apparently new enough to confound our expectations about location awareness and privacy.
Privacy International says that security flaws could endanger user privacy: “PI has determined that the Google system lacks adequate safeguards to protect users from covert opt-in to Latitude’s tracking technology. While it is clear that Google has made at least some effort to embed privacy protections, Latitude appears to present an immediate privacy threat.” (See Computerworld for more.)
The New York Times’s John Markoff believes that mapping is a new metaphor for information, and that Google’s Latitude and similar location-detecting services will blur the relationship between maps and reality.
Meanwhile, Esquire’s Erik Sofge examines the privacy implications and sees both pros and cons to Latitude:
A quick check of Google Maps could become a new kind of effortless mobile communication, replacing the “where are you?” text, which has already all but replaced the “where are you?” call, which has already officially replaced the premise for most of Seinfeld’s first three seasons. And despite all the effort that teenagers will waste spoofing their Latitude-scanning parents, there’s the potential to track a legitimately missing child. There will be abuses, like the ex keeping tabs on your social life (until you remember to boot them off your Friends list), and the occasional jet-setters, expecting you to track their vacation through Tuscany. Latitude will be precisely as annoying as e-mail and social networking sites and cell phones themselves — and just as useful. What won’t stop Latitude, or the wider rollout of location-based tracking, is bitching about it.
Of course, people have to opt in to the service. Only one of my friends is using Latitude, and that person has not once set their location. Broadcasting your personal location — even among a controlled list of friends and family — is an idea that I think gives most people — particularly women — the willies.