Google launches Location History and Location Alerts, features that will make the Google Latitude geolocation service infinitely more useful, while inviting scrutiny from privacy critics. Despite the obvious privacy safeguards of not sharing location history with other users and allowing users to scrub their location history, the new Latitude features will likely warrant the attention of organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation that are nervous about location-based services. Latitude competes with services such as Loopt and Brightkite.
Nov. 10 launched Location History and Location Alerts, features that
will make the Google Latitude
geolocation service infinitely more useful-
invite scrutiny from privacy critics.
Google launched Latitude
in February as a new Google Maps
feature and iGoogle gadget that lets users see the approximate location of
friends who opt to share their location.
While it will work on Internet-connected desktops, Latitude works best on
Web-enabled smartphones such as the Apple iPhone or Google Android-based mobile
devices. As Google's equivalent of Loopt and Brightkite, Latitude lets users
communicate with each other on the go and even meet up. Latitude users can add
profile photos, send text messages and update their status.
Now Latitude also stores location history, allowing users to see where
they've been at any point in time, and provides alerts to tip users off when
they're near their fellow Latitude-using friends. Google Mobile Software
Engineer Chris Lambert explained Location History,
which he promised will not be
shared with any other user:
"Enable Google Location
History to store, view, and manage your past Latitude locations. You can
visualize your history on Google Maps and Earth or play back a recent trip in
order. Of course, you can always delete selected history or your entire
location history at any time."
For this feature to fly without fallout from privacy pundits, the key
elements are that the information won't be shared and can be deleted by the
This is similar to Google's approach to its Web History
feature for desktops: Users can delete
their Google search history, right down to the specific Web page. Providing
such granularity is important in order to keep the privacy hounds off Google's back.
Meanwhile, the beta of Google Location Alerts is straightforward, but it
works hand-in-hand with Location History. Drawing on information about past
locations, Location Alerts identifies a user's routine locations, such as home
or work, and refrains from creating alerts when fellow Latitude users are near.
Alerts will only be sent to Latitude users when they're at an unusual place or
at a routine place at an unusual time. Lambert explained:
"People also want to know when
their friends were nearby, but it's not always convenient to keep checking
Latitude to see if a friend has recently shown up near you. After working on
this for a while, we realized it wasn't as straightforward as sending a
notification every time Latitude friends were near each other. Imagine that
you're Latitude friends with your roommate or co-workers. It would get pretty
annoying to get a text message every single time you walked in the door at home
or pulled into work. To avoid this, we decided to make Location
Alerts smarter by requiring that you also enable Location History."
Current Latitude users interested in these features must navigate here
to explicitly enable
them. To become a Latitude user, sign up here.
If Location Alerts works, it will be a boost to location-based services,
separating the important alerts from the my-roommate-just-got-home
Despite the obvious privacy safeguards, the new Latitude features will
likely warrant the scrutiny of organizations such as the Electronic Frontier
Foundation, which are nervous about location-based services.
The EFF and others are concerned that Latitude,
Loopt and Brightkite
will enable law enforcement officials to trace suspected perpetrators' history.
These services have pledged to require warrants when law enforcement officials
request information from their location-based services.
Twitter also expects to roll out geolocation services
soon, allowing users to share more relevant and timely tweets.