MOUNTAIN VIEW, California: Google Latitude, a new cellphone tracking service, has privacy campaigners bristling as the search giant elbows its way into the increasingly crowded mobile social-networking business. 

Encroaching further into the backyards of the cellphone industry, Latitude enables users to automatically track the whereabouts of their friends in 27 countries.

It will soon become be available on selected BlackBerry and Symbian handsets, with a version for Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch due on the launch pad shortly after.

Although such services already exist, they have been slow to catch-on due to privacy concerns. Google's move, however, is likely to allay privacy fears via in-phone software that enables  phone-owners to go 'offline' at any time, or select who receives location information.

Moreover, Latitude offers an 'override' facility that allows users to enter their location manually, in effect permitting them – if they wish – to falsify their whereabouts.

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff