SAN FRANCISCO - With an upgrade to its mobile maps, Google Inc. hopes to prove it can track people on the go as effectively as it searches for information on the Internet.
The new software to be released Wednesday will enable people with mobile phones and other wireless devices to automatically share their whereabouts with family and friends.
The feature, dubbed "Latitude," expands upon a tool introduced in 2007 to allow mobile phone users to check their own location on a Google map with the press of a button.
"This adds a social flavor to Google maps and makes it more fun," said Steve Lee, a Google product manager.
It could also raise privacy concerns, but Google is doing its best to avoid a backlash by requiring each user to manually turn on the tracking software and making it easy to turn off or limit access to the service.
Google also is promising not to retain any information about its users' movements. Only the last location picked up by the tracking service will be stored on Google's computers, Lee said.
The software plots a user's location — marked by a personal picture on Google's map — by relying on cell phone towers, global positioning systems or a Wi-Fi connection to deduce their location. The system can follow people's travels in the United States and 26 other countries.
It's left up to each user to decide who can monitor their location.
Opinion mode: on.
This can make people's locations known to anyone that can hack into the system. Also, a cheating spouce's location could be learned by the simple click of a button.
At first I thought that this was a cool idea. My wife could track my progress from work to home. But, in the wrong hands, this could cause more problems than what it solves.
Let's say that a school kid is being bullied at school. The kid tries to escape. Meanwhile, the bulley could be tracking the kids location, and can lay in wait for the bullied kid to show up. More harm would follow.
With the lack of ethics, this is a dangerous tool.
Opinion mode: off.