Location (Again)

I still do plan to write on internet divisions created by language, but there was been so many other news stories recently, that that post may have to wait a bit. One new product release generating substantial media attention is Google Latitude. It is a mobile social networking application that runs on (smart) cellphones.

Latitude lets user “check in” and display their location to friends. Mobile social networks are not new (Brightkite, Loopt, and others), but release of automated, location aware technology by a large Internet company is. The user benefits of connecting with a friend who is in town or happens to drop by the same mall where you are is a desirable feature. Likewise, location aware technology is important for Google searches from mobile devices. Thus, if I search “gas” Google could potentially tell me several gas stations in my vicinity and their prices. This location aware technology can be much more accurate than past systems which simply included a zip/postal code to narrow the results.

While PC-based social networks often rely on email address as the unique key, mobile networks might rely on phone number in the future. (Or, as in the case in Japan, where each cell phone has a unique email address that the user chooses this email address may be used. This incidentally is how the Japanese social network Mixi is used, and many Japanese, not having a home computer, primarily access Mixi from their cell phones.)

Adding such additional information into Google’s hands worries some. Such data, along with browsing habits gathered from those using the Google Toolbar, search history, shopping data from Google Checkout, etc. creates an ever more complete and revealing picture of users. Currently the US lacks comprehensive laws on how this data may be used, how long it may be retained, and what may be gathered in the first place. Truly this data can be put to beneficial use by refining search results (mobile and PC-based, by integrating location data from mobile phones with the id of a desktop searcher, for example); however, this data could also be put to nefarious use. Without constraining innovation, I think at the very least Congress might act to require company’s to disclose in an easily understandable and forthright manner the data gathered, its retention period, and an easy data removal process.

This entry was posted in cell phones, privacy, search engines, social networks, telecommunications. Bookmark the permalink.

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