New Internet and mobile applications have arisen that allow registered users to post and update their location around cities like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and exactly where in those cities they are and what they’re doing so their friends will always know where they are at any given moment. Location-sharing applications such as Google Buzz, Foursquare, and Loopt are increasing in popularity very rapidly, because users find it incredibly addicting to post every little detail of their daily activities with friends in their social networks. The appeal is especially strong with the achievement systems in applications such as Foursquare, where you can earn “badges” for checking in at a location more frequently than other users. Although these social networking applications can be entertaining and fun, some people consider them to be risky because the world will know when you aren’t home. You can always not check in when your out and check in to where you have been that night later, but im not sure if that is a violation of the TOS or not.
Foursquare is a mix of traditional social networking features such as finding friends, posting status updates, and social commentary, partnered with a game where you are rewarded for doing interesting things in interesting places. Users “check in” via their cell phone to post their status whenever they go somewhere. Whoever checks in the most often from a particular place becomes the “mayor” of that location. The popularity of Foursquare encourages people to discover new places and explore their own neighborhoods in ways they never have.
There are more than a half a million people using Foursquare, and that number is growing quickly. But in a society where social networking applications are used regularly for providing status updates to the world, is it really a good idea to let the world know when you aren’t going to be home? One tongue-in-cheek website, PleaseRobMe.com, has been launched to show people how vulnerable they can be if they expose themselves to potential burglars. The site follows the “check-ins” people post to location-tracking applications, and site visitors can view an almost real time stream of updates as they are posted on Twitter. Although the name of the site may cause worry for some people, because it sounds as though it was designed for thieves, the owners of the site plainly say that their intention is not to make it easy for people to be burglarized. However, the mere existence of such a site calls attention to an important vulnerability most people may not have considered in terms of location-sharing applications. If you are constantly posting your location status online and thereby telling the world when you aren’t home, does that sound like an open invitation to burglars? Even if you siply tweet that you’re “downtown at the pizza place for a couple of hours,” that might be just enough information to let someone know that your house will be empty.
Of course the reasonable answer to these questions is that sharing your location online doesn’t necessarily mean your house is empty, it just means that YOU aren’t there. A potential burglar would have to know you personally and be familiar with your routine and living situation in order to use your online status updates to time a burglary. And if a thief knows that much about you anyway, a burglary could happen whether or not you’re sharing your location online. Still, it is at least worthwhile to consider how much information you want to tell the world about where you are at any given moment. Letting people know you aren’t home may be a little risky, but telling the world where you are might be even more of a problem if anyone is trying to track you down. Location-sharing applications can be fun, but before immersing yourself in letting the world know where you are, be sure you consider the potential ramifications.