February 05, 2009

Google's new Latitude is a product which, in many ways, is behind the times. After all, GPS systems have been doing a similar function for years: and where was the objection then? For the majority of people, convenience has long trumped privacy concerns. As a friend of mine succinctly puts it, "I will worry about it if I ever commit a crime".

(-- which always reminds me of the classic definition of conservatives and liberals: that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged, and a liberal is a conservative who has been jailed. Not to mention that with all these technological crutches, what happens to our innate and learned sense of direction?)

But in one key way, Google has done the unthinkable. It has stated directly that the primary purpose of its new product is to track people -- other people. GPS could always do that. It just never said it.

Of course there will be a market. Employers may wish to start including cellphones as part of the employment package: which is, after all, the next logical step from monitoring employee keystrokes and Internet use. Parents will wish to monitor children. Teens will grow up with it (as they now grow up with cellphones and text messaging), and come to see this as the norm.

Some, of course, will seek to abuse this technology. Technological stalking is nothing new. For now, Google allows it to be taken to a new level: but again, only because they are open about the purpose of their product. The potential was already there.

Others may choose individually to opt in or opt out, depending on the balance between curiosity about others and tolerance for their personal privacy: but individual choice here is a dying luxury.

Can the subdermal locator microchip be far behind?

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