Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Google Maps - Pushing the Limits of Spatial Privacy?

Attached is a link to a New York Times blog on a feature of Google Maps that allows Google to "know' within varying amounts of accuracy where the user is located based upon the user's cell phone, even if the cell-phone is not GPS-enabled. Google will then communicate this back to the user so that he or she can find out where they are or where they want to go.

I highly recommend that anyone who is interested in privacy in a spatial context pay particular attention to the wide divergence in the comments to the blog; they show the varying degrees of knowledge about the technology as well as levels of concerns about its implications. Courts will struggle with identifying an expectation of privacy that is "reasonable" in this context.



mike said...

correct me if i'm wrong, but isnt downloading of google maps onto your mobile optional?

Kevin said...


You are certainly correct, downloading Google Maps is optional - however as you can tell from the discussion, there is some confusion as to whether everyone who has downloaded Google Maps knows what information is being collected. In addition, the discussion goes to a wider point about privacy . . . in analyzing Fourth Amendment search and seizure cases the Supreme Court focuses on an individual's "reasonable expectation of privacy". The varying points in the thread raise the question in my mind at least as to what is an individual's reasonable expectation of locational privacy given the current capabilities of technology - even without downloading Google Maps. Expectations appear to vary greatly. And the recent divergence in court decisions seems to support this as well.