Google Latitude

By February 6, 2009Uncategorized

One of my old flatmates from university was about as plugged-in as I could imagine anyone being. He would sit in his room listening to the radio, MSN messenger on, sending emails, texting and watching TV with the volume down. His ability to track all these different sources at once was incredible to me. I was a literature student at the time, one media source, books, seemed sufficient to my needs.

This was only a few years ago and yet now my old flatmate’s habits seem quaint. These days to be truly plugged in you have to be on facebook, status updates on the phone, twittering, linkedin, RSS feeds on every subject with a blog for a bit of depth.

The idea that anyone rational would want to constantly know all this information about you seems besides the point. Its about making sure that everybody knows you are on the go and active, the equivalent of a hyperactive child pronouncing to mum all their tiny achievements only instead of seeking parental praise the simple reward of being ‘published’ is enough to keep the constant inanity streaming forth.

Karl is..

“Buttering toast”
“listening to the great new album by Lady Ga-Ga”
“concerned about the situation in palestinian”

Yesterday saw a new addition to me-static with the launch of Google Latitude. Now you can track the movements of all your friends, all of the time.

How exciting is that?

Not only can you know that Karl is buttering toast you will now be able to bring up a map and see where he is doing it. Sadly right now this is not military grade technology so you can’t launch a missile at Karl but if we are exceptionally lucky this will soon be available as some kind of mash-up.

But while tracking and killing your friends are innocent enough uses what about the full potential for Latitude? Over-protective parents are certain to encourage children to sign up. They will be able to track their children all the time, monitoring whether they stop at the sweetshop, whose houses they are at, whether they are really at homework club.

As a teenager I frequently lied to my parents. This wasn’t because I was a deviant but because there are times as a teenager that you want to go to that party, or out on a date, without Mum and Dad knowing. This is all part of growing up and something that this kind of close observation intrudes on. Yes it would be good to know if little Timmy is visiting a crack-house but if he is that far gone he will certainly be streetwise enough to give his phone to an accomplice.

Employers across the country will have also been fast to see possible uses for this technology. Courier companies could track their deliveries, doctors could be called in for emergency procedures depending on their location. Sick at home? Then why is your phone travelling up Oxford High Street right now?

All good so far right? But what about if you did have genuine reasons to want to keep your location from your employers? Perhaps you are visiting a specialist hospital for treatment and don’t want to tell your employer yet. Or perhaps you just don’t think its any of your employers business were you are as long as you are getting the job done. And what about your free time? Will you have to turn your phone off if you don’t want your employer to know you are week ending at Brighton Beach?

Similarly, insecure partners might also like to track the movements of loved ones. And after all if you have nothing to hide then why would you object?

This will be the argument for all of the above, bosses, lovers, parents, friends, why so secretive?

Google Laititude could easily serve to add another layer of distrust to an already paranoid society, with those who do not take part being viewed with suspicion when in fact all they are doing is taking up a perfectly legitimate (and innocent) right to maintain a private identity.

I for one will not be signing up.

Ben Carter
TCC Employee and curmudgeon

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