Google offers free software to track people

A new piece of free Google software released today allows people to keep track of each other using their cell phones -- and while it's opt-in, it's sure to create a privacy firestorm.

CNET, owned by CBS News, debuted the product on the Early Show Wednesday. It's designed to work on any phone with Internet capabilities -- except the iPhone, one of Google's competitors (Google launched their own phone, Android, for T-Mobile last year).

Latitude "uses GPS systems and what's called cell tower triangulation to do the job," CBS reports. "The software seeks the closest three cell towers and, with GPS, combines the data to show where someone is."

It's being marketed to help parents keep track of their children -- but commenters at the liberal forum Democratic Underground note that surreptitious installation could allow girlfriends or boyfriends, or husbands and wives, to track each others' movements unwittingly.

"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," Steve Lee, product manager for Google Latitude, told CNET. "For example, a girlfriend could use it to see if her boyfriend has arrived at a restaurant and, if not, how far away he is."

Adds Lee, "To protect privacy, Google specifically requires people to sign up for the service. People can share their precise location, the city they're in, or nothing at all."

A video of the product demonstration follows. More is available here. (2.04.2009, John Byrne)