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Did I just share my location with an axe murderer? January 4, 2011

Posted by Brian Link in Internet culture, location-based services, socialmedia.
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You never know who’s out there on the Internet. Mike Myers didn’t know he was marrying an axe murderer either and he knew Harriet IRL.

Many people are just getting into the craze of LBS or location-based services. You’re an LBS user if you check-in on Gowalla, Foursquare, Facebook Places, Yelp, Loopt or use services like ShopKick or even Instagram.  And the trend is likely to continue as these services are integrating deals into their platform, so while you’re out and about with your GPS-enabled phone, you may learn about a special deal at Starbucks or a sale going on at The Gap.

As these services mature, there is still a large number of early adopters that are just using these services, like myself, because they’re fun.  By checking in, I’m telling my friends that I’m at Panera right now.  And once in a while, someone notices and we have this serendipitous meet-up just to say hi.  Friends of mine have discovered friends while making connections in airports or while visiting other cities.  (Honestly, in Columbus we don’t get the same advantage that my friends in NYC get with the greater density of people and LBS-users though.)  I also find myself, for absolutely no good reason, competing to win mayorships at the places I visit frequently on Foursquare. How proud am I that I’m the mayor at my local Kroger and the two Paneras that I work out of frequently.  It’s silly, but fun in a warped kind of way.

But here’s the thing.  And the real reason I wrote this post.  LBS is yet another way to broadcast some very personal information.  And it’s another filter through which you should look when adding friends on social networks. When you friend people on Gowalla and Foursquare, for example, you’re saying something like “I’m OK with you knowing when I’m away from my house or out of town on vacation”.   You wouldn’t go broadcasting that information to just anyone, so please be careful about broadcasting it online.  Last year, a site called PleaseRobMe.com was created just to illustrate that point – people oversharing on social networks.

What’s my advice?  Simply put: be diligent about adding friends to your network. And take a good look at your privacy settings.  Posting on Facebook, for example, seems so innocent, right? Because you know everyone there – or at least you should.  But it’s very easy to post using the setting “Friends of Friends”

Oversharing

Oversharing on Facebook

or “Everyone” and not realize that you’re broadcasting personal information to potentially thousands of strangers. And when posting to Twitter, realize that all messages on Twitter are public by default (which is part of what PleaseRobMe.com was trying to raise awareness of). Also be especially mindful of your status updates being shared between or sent to all of your social networks.  It’s hard to keep track of all your friends everywhere online and services like ping.fm and Facebook apps for Twitter make it all too easy to send everything everywhere.

Personally, I love sharing and believe in the openness of the web.  But I’m also very careful about who I friend on networks through which I share my location.  I try to never send my location updates to Twitter and make sure my location related updates on Facebook are set to only certain groups of friends (if you haven’t yet segmented friends into lists, you should).  It may seem strange to you to be so careful about these things, but privacy is a big deal online and a little bit of time and effort will help keep you and your family safe.

UPDATE: For those interested in learning more about LBS, Danny Sauter created a very well written summary of why people even use LBS apps on Quora here: https://www.quora.com/What-do-users-want-on-a-location-based-app/answer/Danny-Sauter

Happy sharing,

Brian

* photo credit Sony Pictures