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February 04, 2009

Google Latitude- New Tool For Tracking Family/Friends? Or Privacy Issue?

Google announced today their new application called Google Latitude that allows tracking of locations via cellphone using GPS.  Techmeme today was abuzz about this. VentureBeat added that Google is getting ahead in the social networking game (and I agree). All Things Digital posted with a test run where the blogger (Katherine Boehret ) "stalked her sister, boyfriend and boss".

@momsatwork brought up a good discussion point on Twitter  "New Google tracking software is every teen's nightmare. http://tinyurl.com/dzgtwo".

I responded @techmama "Google Latitude not teen's nightmare. I say parents new tool ( At library? - no you're at mall).."

At that point, I decided it was time to post.

First of all it is important to understand how Google Latitude works (excerpt from Official Google Blog post):

"Latitude is a new feature for Google Maps on your mobile device. It's also an iGoogle gadget on your computer. Once you've opted in to Latitude, you can see the approximate location of your friends and loved ones who have decided to share their location with you."

Continuing on in the post, it mentions the privacy issue:

"Fun aside, we recognize the sensitivity of location data, so we've built fine-grained privacy controls right into the application. Everything about Latitude is opt-in. You not only control exactly who gets to see your location, but you also decide the location that they see."

The good news is that the service is completely "opt-in" and can be disabled at any time. Here is the video about Google Latitude privacy (IMPORTANT FOR PARENTS especially to share with teens to ensure they UNDERSTAND the privacy settings):

So looking back on the Twitter conversation, yes - it may be teenager's who lie to their parents worse nightmare. For example, if a parent set up Latitude PRIVACY settings to only allow parents to track their teen's cellphone - then if their teenager said they are at the library studying when really they are at the mall shopping - they would be caught. 

On the cool side, isn't some of being a teenager sneaking off with friends? On the non-cool side - maybe it is easier to be honest with parents to show responsibility (which teens need to have a phone in the first place). On the other hand, it may not be appropriate for parents to be online all day tracking where their teens are. Also, teenagers could always work around or disable the settings.

Well then, what is the middle ground?

My suggestion for any parent whose teen has a cell phone is to SPEND THE TIME TO UNDERSTAND GOOGLE LATITUDE'S PRIVACY SETTINGS.


If parent's don't discuss the privacy issue, then teens with a cellphone at some point will learn about Latitude from their friends. It is better that the teens learn about Latitude from their parents, who explain that you CAN'T SHARE YOUR LOCATION WITH ANYONE.  If they want to share their location with a friend, parents should help set up an approved list.

Now the caveat is that you must have a Google email account to sign up for the service, and to have a Google account the terms of service are "You may not use the Services and may not accept the Terms if (a) you are not of legal age to form a binding contract with Google,....". So anyone without a Google Account can't sign up for the service, and anyone with an account has to be of legal age to accept the terms. CNET's Surveill@nce St@te blog posted that the legal age to accept contracts is "18", but that for jurisdiction purposes that age can range from 13 to 18 in different states.

My son is not 13 yet, so I have some time to think this over....


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Well written post. Just a bit of clarification however. Google is not the first service to provide tracking in this manner. I won't be as bold as to say that Helio was the first, but they were on the cutting edge of the technology years prior. I used to own the Helio Ocean which had their patented 'Buddy Beacon' that did essentially the same thing. Obviously Google will prove to be much more mainstream as their service is free and compatible with a range of smartphones.

I can understand the apprehension that parents reserve whenever a new technology such as this is released, but if anything I can see it as an opportunity to bring parents and children closer to one another. If the parents do their job in understanding what the service can offer and how it works, then I can easily foresee agreements being worked out between teens and their parents. Hindering this theory however, is the gap between the generations and parents' apathy toward understanding and keeping up with technology as it is released.

Unfortunately this is often times a gap that cannot be bridged, which ultimately leads to mistrust and deception. The question becomes, who is in the wrong? The teen who embraces an is on the forefront of technology, or the parent who refuses to take the time to understand it? Perhaps we will never know.

Again, well written.


If everyone - kids and parents - want this to work, it looks great. I'm wondering how long it will take someone to hack this so that a teenager can pick their location to keep mom and dad off their backs. Having pre-teen kids, I'm not there yet.


So many ways around being tracked. Leave a phone with a friend, turn off the phone, hack the software, store the phone in your friend/schoolmates car, "accidentally" let the battery die every day, drop the phone in water, etc.

There are tons of kids out there with gmail accounts and phones, using this feature. They dont care they aren't old enough to sign a contract. Gmail is open to anyone and anything, at any age.

I hope parents/teens can live peacefully with this newly available Google feature. Many areas most likely wont work because cell phone reception (and the data plan) are horrible in most areas, nomatter your provider.

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