The exoneration of a Brooklyn teenager with the help of a timely Facebook status update has sparked interest in social networking tools as evidence for law enforcement officials and litigators. This could heighten interest in Google Latitude Location History, an opt-in feature that lets users store where they've been. Yet the fact that Google is now storing location history has privacy advocates such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation concerned about what sort of protection Google will offer Latitude users in the case of legal compliance.
Defense attorneys everywhere are high-fiving in the
wake of a Brooklyn teenager's acquittal
over robbery charges when it was learned the teen had
posted a status update on Facebook from his home computer during the crime.
And with that, proponents of Facebook, Twitter and other social networks are
reveling in that revelation: Social networking can set you free!
Not only does Facebook help users connect and share information with each
other, but it also frees them from jail. It's also put people there; see the case
where a perpetrator used Facebook on the computer of a home
he burglarized and forgot to log out. Oops.
That got eWEEK thinking about a new feature Google just turned on for its
Google Latitude social networking service.
uses cell phone tower triangulation to let users see
where their Latitude friends are on Google Maps from
their mobile phones, or via an iGoogle gadget from their desktop. Users must
opt in to use the service and share their location. Users can control what
friends see where they are.
Latitude got a lot more interesting when Google Nov. 11 added a Location
History feature. As you might expect, Location History logs where Latitude
users have been at any point in time. Users must opt in to use this service,
and may delete some or all of their location history at any time.
Latitude Location History could be incredibly tempting and powerful for law
enforcement agencies to leverage to make their cases versus alleged
perpetrators. Similarly, litigators would find this location history useful.
Considering the recent Facebook robbery alibi, Latitude could be as liberating
as it is damaging.
The fact that Google is now storing location history has privacy advocates
such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation concerned. The EFF already has a
history with location-based services such as Loopt and Latitude; in March the
group cajoled Google into requiring law enforcement officials to produce a
legal warrant before sharing any Latitude data. All was right with the world.
The emergence of Latitude Location History has the EFF in a new snit. Kevin
Bankston, senior staff attorney for the EFF, who originally harangued
Google over Latitude, was not happy about the feature,
noting that Location History for Latitude creates a whole new set of privacy
risks because that history may be vulnerable to demands by the government or