Where's that snow plow? Creepy Google Buzz geo-tags could become a public safety tool

Where's that snow plow? Creepy Google Buzz geo-tags could become a public safety tool

Summary: The geotagging on Google Buzz posts can be creepy. But during local emergencies, they could be life savers.

TOPICS: Google

I have to admit that I've struggled with Google Buzz since the company first flipped the switch on my account yesterday afternoon. It wasn't a bad struggle - I remember feeling the same way about Twitter when I first logged on to that site years ago. But I wanted to keep an open mind about actual use cases for Buzz.

It wasn't until I got creeped out after posting a mobile buzz that I suddenly realized when this service might be most useful - during local emergencies.

Because there's GPS on my phone, Google knows where I am when I ask for driving directions or search for the nearest ATM. I get that. But for some reason, I never expected my actual location - down to the street address - to appear on a mobile buzz post. When I sent my mobile Buzz post and checked it on the Web page, my home address (actually, it was my next-door neighbor's address) was there.

Way Creepy. Yes, I immediately deleted it.

I asked myself why I would ever want to read some random message from someone on the next block, two neighborhoods over or a person hanging out at the Starbucks around the corner. Before I could come up with an answer, a video clip about blizzard conditions on the East Coast came on the evening news. Some lady was talking about being snowbound in the house and having no idea when the snow plows would finally reach her neighborhood.

Gallery: What the Google Buzz is all about

Ta-da. Through Google Buzz, she could learn from total strangers near her where plows had or hadn't been yet. She could find out if her other neighbors had power or even where a community snowball fight might be forming.

A few weeks back, there was some earthquake activity going on in the San Francisco Bay Area. Immediately, Twitter lit up with tweets of "Did you feel it?" and links to news reports about it. But since it was a really localized event, those quake tweets were mixed with all of the other noisy tweets out there. That's when I could have appreciated hearing from those strangers down the street.

The problem is that I'm still creeped out by broadcasting my exact location. My suggestion is that Google allow us to zoom in or out of our geo-location. If I'm the type of person who's OK with everyone knowing that I'm physically located at 235 Second Street in San Francisco, then so be it. But why couldn't I also broadcast my location as "Near 2nd and Folsom, SF" or "South of Market (SOMA), SF" or just "San Francisco." I'm certainly not as creeped out by broadcasting that I'm in the SOMA neighborhood.

The jury is still out on Google Buzz and there are plenty of us out there in the blogosphere chiming in about it. Google noted yesterday that Buzz is a work-in-progress and the company is just getting started with it. I like the idea of getting public safety officials - and maybe even local traffic reporters - familiar with something like Google Buzz.

Whether it's an earthquake, snowstorm, blackout or even some road closures to handle a parade, blasts of information from people who are in the trenches can't be a bad thing.

Topic: Google

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  • That's some stretch to find usfulness for something

    really not all that usefull.
    John Zern
    • Not stretchy in the least

      You've apparently never spent much time in parts of the country that
      have things like blizzards or hurricanes. "Useful" isn't even the half of it.
      Life-saving is more like it.

      Come on, you could at least try not to be such a doodyhead...
    • Its a long stretch for an MS fanboy yes.

      I didn't think much of Buzz since I think
      Twitter is stupid. But I happened to be riding
      in a car when I updated my maps app and saw the
      buzzes near me I quickly saw the usefulness in
      knowing information from others near you. In
      fact I had thought about building a very similar
      app myself but mainly dealing with traffic. I
      live in a hurricane area and now that the author
      mentioned it I could see this being very useful
      while the power and cell service is still up or
      during evacuations.
  • RE: Where's that snow plow? Creepy Google Buzz geo-tags could become a public safety tool

    Anyone concerned about privacy:
    If you're in your house and don't want the exact location pinpointed, disable gps on your phone and use Buzz through wifi or your cellular band. That way, your buzz will be relevant locally but not give away your address.
  • RE: Big Brother Google knows where you are

    This makes me very nervous about how easily I can be found down to the address. The government and others already know where every credit card is used and how much was spent. Isn't that enough. I am amazed how much freedom and privacy people will give up just to feel "safe".
    • Don't like it - opt out.

      All these services are voluntary. Most of us have nothing to hide from Google, Microsoft, the IRS or our wives. Stalk me, see if i care.
  • Other useful "use cases".

    This would be very useful in locating people that keep robbing the gas station down the street...

    Gas Attendant: Was just robbed, 3 guys left in a blue 4 door with a dented bumper.
    Nearby Trucker: Saw similar vehicle just speed past my location on the corner of Main and Second. License plate XXX 123.
    Tollbooth Operator: Spotted same car, alerted State Trooper.

    Or, imagine how useful it would be during an Amber Alert. Or to track things like tornadoes via eye witnesses. Or many other creative things.

    Why do people always go straight to paranoia? Remember, you don't have to use the device if you don't want to.
    • THANK YOU!!!

      Folk are really riding this Google thing so hard
      that the must have completely missed where the
      government started piping the whole internet
      into the white house. What does Google matter at
      that point?

      I do however think they need to rethink the
      possible problem with your exact location being
      given with each buzz. If there were a way to do
      a general area type thing or to not send the
      location for the buzz. I think at some point
      some sort of stalking case is going to come of
      this. I've already seen a lady with an
      attractive picture make posts along a route to
      work she probably takes everyday (basically gave
      it away in the posts she was making). I can see
      someone making up in their mind that they are
      going to meet someone they see posting....never
      mind if that person isn't interested, has a
  • RE: Where's that snow plow? Creepy Google Buzz geo-tags could become a public safety tool

    Why does a person's location have to be sent. Big Brother is watching you! Just another way to track our locations without an RFID chip inserted into our bodies. They use external devices now to track us. Orwell was off a few years off with title of 1984, by about 30 or 40 years.

    Christeen (Michigan)
  • RE: Free intel for crooks and crazies (nt)

  • RE: Where's that snow plow? Creepy Google Buzz geo-tags could become a public safety tool

    You bring up potentially good points about emergencies or the "snow plow" situation. However, in the "snow plow" scenario, wouldn't knowing your neighbors or those in your community and just calling them be just as easy?

    The emergency scenario would be about 1% of the usage of Buzz, albeit helpful during that 1% of the time. So would everybody want Buzz giving their exact location the other 99% of the time? Or would enough people even use a phone that would use Buzz to have an impact in any given community?

    I guess my point is, you bring up good points about potential benefits of Buzz, but for your points to play out in the real world would require a pretty high percentage of people in a given locale not only using a smartphone (possible), but using Buzz, which seems unlikely, and I don't believe was Google's #1 goal with the service.