Pressure grows against Google tracking system

By Ian Dunt

Pressure is growing in parliament against new phone tracking software being introduced by Google.

An early day motion (EDM) tabled by the Liberal Democrats’ home affairs team has now received support from 20 MPs.

Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, has written to the chief executive of Google UK to highlight privacy concerns raised by the new technology.

In a comment piece written for today, Mr Brake wrote: “Just as we should be worried about the government rolling out fully integrated databases and ID cards, we should also worry about private companies such as Google inadvertently creating further threats to our civil liberties.”

Bob Spink, one of the MPs who signed the EDM told yesterday: “It seems to me to be downright dangerous.

“There are some downright mad and bad people around who harass innocent people and would like to know where they are and what they are doing,” he continued.

“It’s too much tracking, too much invasion of personal freedom and this is just a step too far.”

But Google insists the new software has been implemented with privacy considerations in mind.

A spokesman told that the company had sought the advice of groups helping victims of domestic violence to ensure the software could not be used maliciously.

A pop-up will appear periodically asking the user if they wish to continue using the programme, and it will stop functioning if the user does not respond.

Phone owners will also be able to lie on the device by making it look as if they are somewhere different to where they really are.

But privacy groups are still concerned at the implications for employees, who could be asked to accept company phones with the software pre-installed, or to sign contracts tying them to keeping the tracking software on.

The EDM reads: “That this House expresses concern at the new Google phone tracking system called ‘Latitude’ which makes available location data on a time-to-time or continuous basis; warns that such a device could substantially endanger user privacy, agrees with Privacy International’s report which declares that ‘Latitude appears to present an immediate privacy threat’, believes that Google has created an unnecessary danger to user privacy, and urges the government to look at the privacy implications of Google ‘Latitude’ and to take action to ensure ‘Latitude’ does not represent a threat to privacy.”

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has met with Mr Brake to discuss the system.

The software is based on satnav chips found within cell phones and mobile masts. The result of the scan shows up as a blue dot on Google maps.