I was recently listening to the Infosmack Podcast #50 over at StorageMonkeys and the speakers were discussing location-based social networking applications. Specifically, they talked about Foursquare although the same discussion could be had with any social networking tool where you disclose your location. For example, if you are a California Twitter user and Tweet about attending a show in Massachusetts. I think that there is value in sharing thoughts and locations, but it also creates new concerns about privacy and risk.

The proliferation of data on the Internet means that it is simple to find detailed personal information on almost anyone. For example, you can find someone’s general location from where they work, GPS coordinates included in Twitter or references in blog posts. With the location, you can use an online phonebook to search for the person and easily find their home address and phone number. This is the reality of today’s Internet and anyone who is an avid user of social media must recognize it, and learn to live with it. However, the addition of location-based services adds another level of detail that I find troubling.

The problem with location is that the combination of that information and your personal address can provide a detailed profile that could be used for negative purposes. For example, if a criminal knew that you lived in Washington, DC and are travelling in Texas, they could use that knowledge to take advantage of your absence. They could also study your geographic movements to understand your habits and use that information for negative purposes. The nefarious possibilities are endless.

The takeaway is that increased transparency and information can be beneficial to social media, but increases risk. Ironically, the open sharing that provides so much value in social media also creates new avenues for crime. Each participant must decide how much information to provide and balance their desired openness with personal security. I struggle with providing geographic information for the reason’s listed and would love to hear other people’s perspectives.

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