Critics: New Google App Gives Abusers Too Much Latitude
"As it stands right now, Latitude could be a gift to stalkers, prying employers, jealous partners and obsessive friends," Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, said in a new report.
Google's Latitude, unveiled this week, allows users to track other people via smartphones. The feature comes with some built-in privacy protections. Among others, users must opt in to the service, and even after enabling the feature, retain control over which of their contacts can track them.
But Privacy International says the system has a design flaw: Other people can get their hands on users' phones, and then change the settings. For instance, the group said, a phone left in a repair shop could be secretly enabled. Or someone could give another a Latitude-enabled phone as a gift.
"Once the phone has been enabled, the second party will be able to mask his phone's presence, thus ensuring that the victim is unaware that her phone is being tracked," the group said in its report.
"Many people will see Latitude as a cool product, but the reality is that Google has yet again failed to deliver strong privacy and security. The company has a long way to go before it can capture the trust of phone users," Davies said.
The group suggested that Google send regular messages to users telling them that their phones are Latitude-enabled. Currently, Google sends such messages to BlackBerry users who don't log in. A Google spokesperson said the company intends to expand that feature to other types of smartphones.
"We already have a safety feature working on certain mobile devices that actively alerts users that Latitude is running and we are in the process of extending this notification to other mobile platforms supporting Google Latitude, which will be ready in the very near future," the company said in a statement.