Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Google: Big Brother

There's a fine line between informative and intrusive. Ask any celebrity. But now, it seems, we are all celebrities:
 This image was published on Google Earth (original image). It depicts Australia's Bondi Beach. If you look closely enough, as PC World points out, you can practically read the labels on the bikinis.
Worse than this, of course, is this new Google product:

The tracking feature, called Latitude, will appear on compatible mobile devices in a new version of Google Maps, version 3.0.0. It can also be added as a gadget on iGoogle, the company's personalizable home page service.

Google reassures us that this feature is opt-in only, but here's the kicker:

To begin sharing your location, you must either sign up for the Latitude service or accept an invitation to view the location of someone already using it.

Latitude's help pages describe the fine-grained control the service allows over who sees what, and when. For each friend with whom you choose to share information, you can give your precise location, the name of the city only, or no information at all.

Key phrases here: "accept an invitation" and "For each friend with whom you choose to share information".
In other words, if you're drunk one night and some intriguing contact decides to share their location with know, to facilitate chat or some are automatically enrolled in Latitude. Worse, everyone you know who is enrolled in Latitude will now, by default, have access to your precise location unless on a case-by-case basis, you choose to limit their access. You can't block general location services completely unless you opt out of the service or manually fix your location on a Google map.
Say you have G-chat, Google's chat feature. Your contacts on there will be able to precisely locate the exact address where you are, whether you are using your mobile device or your home PC. Or as Techtree puts it, you can "stalk your friends". Doesn't matter if you're home, at your girlfriend's house, at HER girlfriend's house (*winkwink*), a bar, work, playing hooky, whatever. People will know precisely where you are at all times.
Well, now that sucks! What's the point in that?
Here's the kicker: Latitude is bundled with the latest downloadable version of Googe Maps for Mobile software, which means if you want the latest mapping, you have to install Latitude, too.
Couple that with what appears to be the ultimate iteration of Google Earth, a live or at least near-live feed of the Earth, and your friends will get to see this.