Location Features: Is Google Going Too Far?

By February 24, 2010

Image via CrunchBase The abundance of location features in social networks, such as FourSquare, Brightkite and more recently Twitter and Google, raise the problem of privacy. Many experts think that these privacy issues will disa

ppear as the localization trend becomes more and more common. Defenders of localization features claim that they don't raise any privacy problems as users themselves made the choice to participate and share private data with their friends.

This is where Google may be crossing the line, as it chose an "opt-out" solution rather than an "opt-in" solution. Meaning that users are automatically enrolled without being asked and have to "opt-out" if they don't want to participate.

Indeed, when enrolling in the location-aware mobile app Google Latitude, all of your Google contacts will receive notifications about where you are even though they didn't sign in to get them. Google sends these alerts automatically if one of your contacts opts in for the service launched early February 2010. As Google explains on its website:

"Alerts are sent to both nearby friends if they are sharing their location with each other, even if only one of them has enabled alerts."

To prevent being harassed every minute by these kinds of notifications, Google will notify you only when your friends are in "unusual places." In Google's words: "Location Alerts are only sent when your friend is at an unusual place during a given time of the week based on their location history, filtering out routine locations such as a daily commute."

Google Latitude is so intrusive that if you refuse to receive this kind of notification you'll have no choice but to opt-out of these emails by visiting its website.

The intrusiveness of Google is even more worrying when remembering last week's Google Buzz, again an "opt-out" solution in which people saw themselves following friends and being followed without being asked. Consequently they were sharing private information with people they didn't want to.

These new and intrusive products don't seem to match Google's corporate motto of "don't be evil." On the contrary it makes the giant of the Internet industry even more disturbing...

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