Parents beware: Google iPhone app maps user's locations

Google releases iPhone version of its Latitude people-tracking software

Google has released a version of its tracking-people-on-a-map application, Latitude, for the iPhone and iPod Touch and as a web application in Safari. Latitude was released earlier this year for Android, Blackberry, Symbian and Windows Mobile.users. Latitude is among a growing number of location-aware applications for mobile phones such as Britekite and Loopt.

With such applications, users can tell their friends their exact locations, pictured on a map, as they move around. Google was smart enough to release a video that showcases how to work the privacy settings it includes in Latitude. (See below.) In the video it also promises that it isn't storing the data it uses to show everyone's whereabouts, beyond the very last location that it presents to the folks you've given permission to see it.

When the Android version of the app was released in March, the Electronic Frontier Foundation stepped in and pressured Google to adjust the technology so that location data is overwritten every time it is updated. The EEF also wanted Google to create a legal policy similar to the one adopted by Loopt, which would protect location data if the government came calling demanding it. Google's policy, like Loopt's, is to require law enforcement agencies to produce a wiretap order before tracking a Latitude user’s location for law enforcement.

While the EEF might be pleased with these privacy protections, these apps give me the willies. I personally don't want anyone to be able to track where I am every minute of the day, although I can see how an app like this might be useful in certain short-term situations. These would include attending a trade show (helping you more easily meet up with people on the show floor) or when spending a day with friends at Disneyland.

But as a parent of teenagers, such applications make me worry, too. While it might be nice, from a parent's point of view, to be able to monitor the whereabouts of my children whenever they pull out of the driveway, these apps are also a stalker's dream and rely on the phone user's good judgment on who to accept as a friend and how much information to share. When your phone user is a teenager, can you trust your kid to be careful who to invite or when to cut someone off?

While, on version 3 of the iPhone, Apple has implemented parental controls, they aren't effective for an application like this. Such controls tap into age-rating information on the applications and are mainly intended to keep kids away from explicit material. So parents beware. Like monitoring what your kids are telling others on Facebook, you also need to ensure they aren't broadcasting their movements to others via their mobile phones.

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