sex drugs and intellectual freedom

Google Latitude: The Loneliest Place on Earth

Posted in privacy, social networking, surveillance by A on 8 February 09


I got on board with Google’s Latitude shortly after its unveiling last week. I was curious on two fronts, 1) to see what kind of privacy mess it could be and 2) to see what kind of utility a location-based social media app might have for my life. After a few days of playing around it seems I’ve (mostly) had my curiosities satisfied…

1) Privacy. Michael Zimmer has a solid rundown of Latitude here.

Despite Privacy International’s mostly ridiculous assertions, it’s not necessarily a privacy nightmare. This “fundamental design problem that could substantially endanger user privacy” that PI claims to have identified is outlined as a lack of safeguards against “covert opt-in to Latitude’s tracking technology.” Really? “Covert opt-in?” As if Jason Bourne slipped in during the night and flipped the switch on our collective BlackBerries. While there is a real concern buried in there (Google could stand to more actively remind users of the service that they are, indeed, using the service), flipping out about it in this way will only serve as a distraction. Those of us who actively care about user privacy in relation to technology – particularly social media – do so not because technology scares us, but because it excites us. I’m thrilled at the positive utility of many of these services, and want to help encourage thoughtful, ethical design that empowers users. While Google has dropped the ball before, they haven’t with Latitude (yet).

2) Honestly, I am kind of totally in love with Latitude. However, I’m in love with it in the way I might love the solitude of a cozy bed in a locked room. It’s an incredibly lonely obsession.

We were all told that the introduction of a $199 iPhone signaled the beginning of smartphones as the industry standard in mobile technology. Then came the G1…the Storm…the Pre…. Mobile innovation seems to be clipping along nicely but, speaking from the perspective of a ground-level user, the mobile revolution is just not moving that fast. I suppose there are a number of factors that come into play: the dramatic economic downturn (even without that, $200 is still a lot to pay for a damn phone [not to mention the monthly cost of a data plan]), as well as consumers being locked into contracts with mobile carriers who don’t carry the smartphone they want.

I realize, however, that in some social circles, these phones have become standard. However, these social circles are more than likely organized around specific careers, wealth, and/or affluence. They’re far from being the standard among large social circles that are informally organized, you know, socially. Most of the members of my rec soccer team do not carry them. Neither do a great number of my graduate level classmates. My favorite bartender has an old Samsung and a $35.99/mo voice plan. Half of my bandmates don’t even have cell phones. Given this social landscape, Latitude is fun but hardly useful. I currently have but two friends using it – one who lives 6 hours away and one who keeps pinging Google with joke locations (in the last few days he’s travelled to such exotic locations as the Galapagos and Gary, IN).

Nonetheless, I continue to use Latitude, shrugging my shoulders and – ping after ping – wondering why.

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  1. draynd said, on 16 February 09 at 1:11 PM

    if only it were supported on the iphone. or if i were to have an iphone. because then all the cool kids would jump over after dodgeball was decomposed.

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