AT&T launches a Google Latitude competitor and makes a hash of the privacy settings

By April 15, 2009 7 Comments

From BuyGeniusReport:

So check this: AT&T just launched a service called FamilyMap. It basically let’s you locate any number on your AT&T account for a monthly fee. Here’s the thing though… besides the first notification text message alerting that subscriber they are being tracked, everything else is completely silent. For instance, we signed up and were able to track both an iPhone 3G and a Bold completely without any visible indication. No text message, nothing. What’s even more strange, however, is that this isn’t just using cell tower triangulation, it actually can activate the GPS chip. How messed up is that?

Regular readers will know that my general position on privacy is in line with Scott McNealy‘s “You have no privacy; get over it.”, based on the general belief that fears about privacy greatly overstate the actual risks.  Here is what I wrote when Google launched Latitude, their comparable service:

I think this service will be a big deal.  After all the hoo-ha about privacy and nervousness about how people will use it dies down everyone will come to see that a service like this has real utility.  New behavioural protocols will be required, and that will be uncomfortable to start with, but people will get over this, they always do.  Look at telephones, mobiles, Facebook and now Twitter.

I stand by that as a general statement, but as BoyGenius says the privacy controls in the AT&T service are ridiculously slack.  People need to be permissioned on an individual basis to share location.

On the one hand I feel that there simply won’t be much take-up of this service as the current ‘one approval for everyone’ setup won’t be attractive, but on the other I feel there is a danger that privacy bores use it to whip up hysteria that will restrain the growth of more genuinely useful services. 

Privacy is a sensitive, emotional and sentiment driven topic and if we are to cut through to the real issues and properly understand the tradeoffs between the risks and rewards of sharing different forms of private data then we need less of this sort of thing.

I still like the idea of being able to see my friends on maps though :-).

At a higher level my hope for social media generally is that it leads to a higher level of trust, open-ness and transparency in society.  It would be a big step forward from where we are today, but I can see a future where through use of status updates, serivces like LastFM, Google Latitude and others people spend less time trying to manipulate how other people see them and get more comfortable with simply being themselves.