Google Latitude for iPhone: Cool or Creepy?

Google Latitude on iPhone

Google’s new location sharing service, Latitude, is now available on iPhone. You can direct your iPhone to Latitude and opt to share your location — with all of your friends, or with select friends only.


I can imagine a few ways Google Latitude could be useful:

  • You’re at a music festival and you’re trying to meet up with your friends. Instead of trying to talk over the music to tell them where to meet up, just share your location with them using Latitude.
  • You’re traveling and you want to give your family members the peace of mind of knowing where you are, so you share your location with them.
  • As Google themselves noted, imagine you’re playing tennis and you want to invite your friends. Simply share your location and include a status message inviting people to join you.
  • Parents can setup Latitude on their children’s phones — Latitude is also available on phones other than iPhone — to keep track of where they are at certain times.
  • Or, in an extreme situation, let’s say you are kidnapped and the police are able to locate you because of Google Latitude.

Note that strangers can never track you using Latitude without your permission. Anyone who wants to track you needs to be approved by you first.

Google Latitude Friend Request


Despite the benefits, however, there are a number of scenarios where Latitude could be abused, some of which have prompted privacy groups to speak out against the Google service.

  • Anyone could covertly set up the service on someone’s phone and track their every move. Once Latitude is active, Google does not remind you that the service is turned on.

    Privacy group Privacy International explains how this could happen:

    We have considered the following five scenarios:

    * An employer provides staff with Latitude-enabled phones on which a reciprocal sharing agreement has been enabled, but does not inform staff of this action or that their movements will be tracked.
    * A parent gifts a mobile phone to a child without disclosing that the phone has been Latitude-enabled.
    * A partner, friend or other person gains access to an unattended phone (left on a bar on in the house) and enables Latitude without the other person’s knowledge.
    * A Latitude-enabled phone is given as a gift.
    * A phone left unattended, for example with security personnel or a repair shop, is covertly enabled.

    Once the phone has been enabled, the second party will be able to mask his phone’s presence, thus ensuring that the victim is unaware that her phone is being tracked.

  • You could also set up Latitude on your own phone and forget that you have it turned on, unintentionally allowing your friends to track your location at all times.
  • Law enforcement could subpoena Google to find out where you are at any given moment. But Google says it stores only your most recent location, so your history is not tracked.
  • Although unlikely, a skilled hacker could crack the system and stalk you or learn your patterns so as to break in to your home at the perfect time.

xkcd Latitude comic

Google Latitude Privacy Tips

In the video below, Google shares some Latitude privacy tips for using the service safely and securely.

What do you think? Does Google Latitude and the idea of location-sharing go too far? Or is this something you plan to use? I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments.