Thanks in part to feedback from EFF, Google has chosen to take a strong and public stand on what legal privacy protections should apply if the government comes calling for the location data collected by Latitude, Google’s new cell phone-based friend-finding service. Google has decided to match the policy for dealing with law enforcement demands first adopted by its friend-finding competitor Loopt after consultation with EFF, a policy which relies on the strongest possible legal arguments for protecting users’ location privacy. The gist of the Latitude and Loopt policies? “Come back with a warrant.”
Like Loopt, Google’s Latitude doesn’t (currently) keep a historic log of its users’ locations; both companies overwrite the old data each time you report a new location. We think that’s the right move privacy-wise, and hope that between Loopt and Latitude, the we-don’t-keep-historic-logs policy will become the industry standard in the friend-finding space.
Being lawyers, though, we at EFF were just as concerned-if not more concerned-with legal policy: what would Google’s legal position be when a law enforcement agency tried to make it start logging a Latitude users’ location as part of an investigation? This is a particularly important question considering that when it comes to using the phone company’s cell tower data to track your location, the government’s position is that it doesn’t need to get a search warrant (though EFF’s been doing a good job of convincing the courts otherwise).