On social media – location-based services, privacy and risk

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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4 thoughts on “On social media – location-based services, privacy and risk”

  1. Nice post, Jay. I agree that it’s a bit dangerous to let the whole world know where you are at any given moment–particularly if you really have left your house empty.

    That said, I do think that in general, people are having a panic response right now about social networking. This is due to the fact that we’re hitting a trough in what Gartner so accurately described as the “hype cycle.” As I mentioned on my blog — http://sunshinemug.blogspot.com/2010/05/why-im-not-leaving-facebook.html — this is the hidden reason for the uproar. Only after the fear kicks in do people start casting around for villains like Mark Zuckerberg to pin their feelings on.

    Really like the new blog–keep on writing!

    1. Sunshine, thank you for your comment. I agree with your thoughts and blog post; the security issue is a sensitive issue and people do appear to be overreacting. However, my concern with location-based information is not related to the “trough of dis-illusionment,” and I would be concerned regardless of the larger social media issues.

      Also, thank you for the kind words on my blog. I will keep on writing!

  2. I remain convinced that anyone who thinks broadcasting their whereabouts and happenings on an indiscriminate basis is a arrogant fool. Who cares about you and your petty happenings ? Who cares what you bought where ? And what value does this bring to world of where everyone can easily produce valueless, trivial content ?

    The world would be a better place if you spent the same amount of time either meditating, or carefully writing about one topic that you are passionate about. Don’t waste your opportunity to do something useful, creative, dream filled and passionate with the Internet!!

    Don’t be trivial, be wonderful.

  3. Greg–your passion is admirable. But really, what you’re saying could apply to any kind of social networking. Why bother with Twitter or Facebook? That also involves broadcasting one’s petty happenings. Life is made up of such simple, unadorned moments, as anyone who meditates can tell you. Of course, all of this is optional. You don’t have to get involved if you don’t want to, but your life might be in some way enhanced if you do. It could even be made more wonderful using these platforms.

    One of my favorite usages of Foursquare is to find out who else is at a given location or event. Now, Foursquare doesn’t have enough uptake for this feature to be usable all the time, but at larger events here in the Bay Area this can happen, and it’s exciting and fun. Another way I use Foursquare is to find tips and specials. This is especially nice when I’m traveling.

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