This is the first thing I read on my way to work today. Not only has a rather fetching young man/lady just set the record for the youngest ever sex change, but Google is putting a "spy" in my pocket. Bejesus! On the one hand I'm heartened that broader acceptance of gender issues has led to at least one confused young person finding happiness, on the other I'm disappointed in the continued sensationalisation that characterises reporting around personal information. What a morning!
To give you a quick summary of the story, basically Google Latitude is piece of software that allows users to track their friend's whereabouts in 27 countries worldwide once they've installed in on their phone. Users will have to sign up to the service and can agree to give contacts their precise location, their city or no details. Only the most recent information is given and none of the information is stored. Interesting, but not actually new. Yahoo! Fire Eagle has been doing all that stuff for a while now. Followus is a whole service dedicated to offering parents and companies the option to track their kids/workers using their mobile phone data.
What the newspaper reports seem to miss is how useful this kind of information could be to the people. Aside from making meeting up with your mates much easier, once you don't have to tell your phone where you are, then it can quite easily tell you how to get somewhere else, or where the nearest pubs or places of interest are near you. It could also help you with your shopping, find you a nearby cab, or facilitate real world gaming. The reason many people are so worried about sharing information is because they don't realise what the benefits will be. As this chart from the Institute for Insight in the Public Services shows, however, once people know that they'll be getting better service in return then perceptions of data sharing change dramatically.
Data is an unsettling, scary world for a lot of people, but whilst being wary of the issues around supplying personal information we shouldn't forget the benefits that it can bring. For brands, the lesson is to be clear and up front about what kind of information you're gathering, how it will be stored and how people will benefit as a result. Only then will people realise that if Google are putting a spy in your pocket, it's only so he can work for you.