Google has announced that its Latitude service, which broadcasts its users’ location, will not keep logs of past broadcasts. Instead, each new broadcast will write over the previous one, leaving no trail of where the user has been. This is important policymaking, and follows that set by Loopt, which offers similar functionality.
Why is this important? According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, there is a privacy issue at risk. For the purposes of argument, broadcasting one’s location to people in one’s network is the equivalent to a private communication between two people, and as such should be protected by the same laws that enforce wiretapping. The upshot of this is that the authorities will not be able to use your location information against you during a search, and will have to produce a court order to obtain a wiretap should they ever want to track a particular user.
Obviously, all these new software tools are fun and enabling, but they come with hidden caveats that the average user might not even consider — until it’s too late. Fortunately for us, folks like the EFF and Google — who really needed this, as their “Don’t be evil” motto has lately taken some fire — do consider these things, and are watching out for user rights.