On Wednesday, February 4, 2009, Google launched a new feature called Latitude. Latitude apparently will enable users of smartphones, including most Blackberries, most phones using Microsoft Windows Mobile and, eventually, iPhones, to transmit their locations to another smartphone or desktop computer.
Much like most social networking conventions, Latitude operates on an opt-in basis, which enables smartphone users to share their locations with only certain chosen recipients. Teenagers will undoubtedly find this application "cool" as will the parents of many of those teenagers who may use Latitude to keep tabs on their kids. In addition, many smaller businesses may use the feature to efficiently dispatch delivery and repair crews.
And therein lies the potential privacy problem. Although Latitude is designed to be used only by those who choose to do so, some employers may seek to require their workers to use Latitude so that work activities can be monitored and directed. Requiring employees to put Latitude on their personal cell phones is rife with potential invasions of privacy during nonworking hours. Therefore, employers that choose to use Latitude should plan on issuing company phones to monitored employees and should obtain written employee acknowledgment of and consent to the use of this technology. Furthermore, although Latitude requires an affirmative opt-in, smartphone users must disable the service when they do not wish to be monitored, such as when employees are off the clock. As a result, employers will need to create policies to ensure that appropriate worker privacy is maintained during non-work hours.
Employers should also understand the limitations of location-monitoring services. For instance, Latitude's accuracy is dependent on multiple factors such as whether Google is able to rely on smartphone GPS capabilities or whether Google must rely on cell phone tower triangulation to place the user. Employers must also understand that Latitude and other location-monitoring technology is capable only of identifying a person's location, not what that person is doing. Therefore, employers should be careful about coming to any rush to judgment based on the results of location monitoring.