You may have read the latest announcement from Google introducing a new social location service for mobile devices.  A posting in outlines the features and purpose of this application, which will be termed Latitude.  This new web application will enable people with mobile phones or other wireless devices to be individually and precisely tracked within Google maps.

Think about it.  Would you like your spouse to know where you are at any given moment?  Where are the kids?  Where are my employees located right now?  Who is in our neighborhood?  Think of the possibilities. Many will speculate on the array of privacy concerns this technology will trigger.  I’ll leave that up to you, the reader, to voice your own opinions.  But it would be interesting to reflect a bit on certain parallels the past, and in particular, RFID technology.

Those of us who dwell on the future capabilities of information technology to enhance supply chain visibility have long discussed the possibilities of merging the physical location of items within supply chain applications.  It was sometimes referred to as merging the physical and digital supply chain, with the ability to locate or track any item anywhere.  RFID technology was the most promising step toward this capability. Active or passive RFID tags, having the ability to broadcast or store specific information, could indeed integrate with various supply chain software applications. The tracking of inventory could be truly real-time, and location-specific.

The first outcry regarding the potential use of this technology came from consumers who had legitimate privacy concerns.  I recall those arguments.  How much information is going to be tracked?  What limits will there be as to specifically identifying a consumer, or that person’s buying patterns?  The groundswell of concerns caused companies such as SAP, Wal-Mart and others to scale-back their original pilots.  In Germany, consumers were threatening to boycott any Metro Group stores that utilized RFID technology. Consumers in the UK similarly expressed vocal privacy concerns to retailer TescoIBM went so far as to announce that its researchers came up with an RFID tag that provided consumers the power of privacy, by literally “turning-off” certain features of the tag.

My how far we’ve come- or have we really changed our perspectives on individual privacy.  The tracking of an individual down to a specific geographic coordinate is really “cool”, and may instantiate that former supply chain vision of merging physical with digital.  Google indicates that individuals can voluntarily select which tracking option they want to enable.  But in this particular case, I’m of the belief that such an application crosses the line of privacy.  Too much of our personal identity is being shared on the Internet without reflection of the implications.  Let’s observe if Google can overcome issues of individual privacy.  Obviously, there is previous learning to turn to.

No thanks Latitude, not this time.  Where I and my family goes, and what I do is my business.  I hope and trust that Latitude doesn’t sour future applications leveraging RFID.

Let’s hear from you- what’s your view on Latitude?

Bob Ferrari