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2/6/2009
05:56 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Google Latitude: Not A Real Privacy Risk

Google is far from perfect when it comes to privacy, but the outcry over its Latitude location-sharing service is excessive.

Google is far from perfect when it comes to privacy, but the outcry over its Latitude location-sharing service is excessive.Latitude allows a Google user with a mobile phone or Gears-enabled computer to share location data with contacts, and, if allowed, see reciprocal location data.

Privacy International, the group objecting to Latitude, claims that the service could be abused "when a second party can gain physical access to a user's phone and enables Latitude without the owner's knowledge."

Maybe so. But when a second party has access to your phone, it's all over. That person has access to your contacts and possibly to your e-mail accounts, if you've stored your login data in your phone's e-mail client. If you've got any kind of electronic payment application, that's gone, too. And that's to say nothing about the risk of impersonation when one's phone is in another's hands.

Meanwhile, in Privacy International's backyard, members of the United Kingdom's House of Lords are warning that increased use of CCTV cameras, a DNA database, national ID cards, and databases of children are eroding freedoms and rights in the United Kingdom.

In California, the Department of Motor Vehicles wants to spend $63 million to add facial-recognition biometrics to drivers' licenses, a plan that privacy groups fear would allow law enforcement agencies in the state to scan faces en masse at sporting events, for example, to identify anyone from fugitives to parking ticket scofflaws.

There are, in other words, real privacy risks out there, but Latitude isn't one of them.

People are their own worst enemy when it comes to privacy. They post information on social networks that's far more revealing, and potentially damaging, than one's location. They leave documents with sensitive information onscreen or on their desks, at home and at work. They work on laptops in public places, where someone could gather private information by watching surreptitiously. They make calls on cordless phones that can be intercepted with a scanner.

If you want to worry about privacy, worry about information that can be gathered by your employer, your government, your insurer(s), and anyone you're fighting in court. If you've got worry to spare, spend some wondering what your ISP is doing with your data and how the merchants you buy from protect your credit card data. Then you can use whatever worry remains to fret about Google.

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