Google Promises Memory Loss for Latitude
Latitude program, which allows mobile phone and other portable device
users to automatically share their whereabouts, will follow competing
service Loopt when it comes to disclosing information to law
enforcement officials: get a warrant.
Introduced last month, Latitude is a new feature for Google Maps on mobile devices where users in 27 countries are able to broadcast their locations to others constantly. The software has raised concerns among privacy advocates about Google's legal position on when a law enforcement agency sought a user's Latitude location.
"This is a particularly important question considering that when it comes to using the phone company's cell tower data to track your location, the government's position is that it doesn't need to get a search warrant," notes Kevin Bankston of the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation).
Working with the EFF, Google has decided the answer will be to require law enforcement agencies to produce a legal warrant before sharing any Latitude data. Loopt, which counts Verizon Wireless among its customers and also offers an iPhone app for the service, has also agreed with the EFF that a warrant will be necessary before sharing data.
"When it comes to friend-finding services, we think it's clear that your location information is the content of a private communication between you and your friends, and that it deserves the same legal protections against wiretapping as the content of your phone calls or your e-mails," Bankston wrote March 4 on the EFF blog. "Therefore, Loopt's policy has been to demand that the government get a wiretap order -- sometimes called a 'super-warrant' since it's even harder to get than a regular search warrant -- before it starts logging a user's location for the government."
Bankston said the EFF has "pestered" Google since the Latitude release to follow Loopt's lead.
"We are incredibly happy that Google has taken this rare step, not only by making the right decision about the privacy of its users' data, but by making that policy public," Bankston said. "When it comes to government surveillance, the legal interface between law enforcement and your phone and Internet service providers is a shadowy place, and it's often unclear what types of data companies are willing to provide to the government based on what types of legal process."