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

The geotagging on Google Buzz posts can be creepy. But during local emergencies, they could be life savers.
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive

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.

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