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Don Tapscott

Friend finder or big brother?

Perhaps there is cause for hope with Google and privacy.  Google has got it wrong many times on the privacy issue.  In 2007 the Privacy International watchdog said Google was the worst of 23 Internet companies it examined, saying the search engine giant had “entrenched hostility to privacy.”

This week Google unveiled new software for mobile phones called Latitude. Once installed, you can track your friends’ whereabouts on your phone and they can see you on their phones.  “What Google Latitude does is allow you to share that location with friends and family members, and likewise be able to see friends and family members’ locations,” said Steve Lee, product manager for Google Latitude. “This adds a social flavor to Google maps and makes it more fun.”

Much of the online feedback to the new product’s announcement focuses on the privacy implications, which are tremendous. As put it:  “Upping the Creepiness Ante:  Google to Release Latitude.”

To Google’s credit, you actually have to turn on the software to let it share your location; it doesn’t turn on automatically, and it’s easy to turn off.  And nor does Google keep your whereabouts on file.  Only your last location is kept on Google computers.  Google even released a video (below) offering “privacy tips.” All good signs that the company might be waking up to the importance of privacy. But as one observer noted: “lol, your friends cannot see you (if you set to this), but google, cia, fbi, terrorists and whatever can. ;-)

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