Location-based mobile services (such as Gowalla, Foursquare and the recently launched Check In) are all the rage in the social media sphere these days, and I participate in one of them, Foursquare, to keep track of my buddies around town and on occasion get a good tip on a restaurant or bar I haven’t been to or a discount for being the “Mayor” somewhere.
As a marketer, I see a ton of positives for business to embrace these types of services, and the opportunity to provide added content to users, increase awareness and maximize the potential of mobile. The space is growing rapidly. For example, Foursquare has inked partnerships with major media players and fashion designers, Bing is now integrating Foursquare check-ins into real-time search, and mash-ups of check-ins and reviews are popping up. It’s an exciting time full of potential.
That being said, online privacy has always been a passion of mine, especially as I’ve watched the web mature over the last 15 or so years, and yet it seems to be falling by the wayside as new start-ups are launched and people fall prey to “shiny object syndrome”. I see a dark-side to these services, and one that honestly should be more top-of-mind as we continue to push the boundries between “real life” and “virtual life”.
It boils down to one simple point: be aware of what you share.
The data we’re sharing is open to all; the web isn’t a closed garden where only your friends see your data. Criminals pay attention to things like patterns: do you take the same route to work every day? Do you check-in at your physical house? Do you hang out at the same coffee shop every Saturday? We usually aren’t aware of how much our life follows a pattern and that people can use that info for ill gains. Being smart about how you use these services is a must in my book. That doesn’t mean you can’t check-in when you’re out with friends or around the city, it just means be aware of where and why you’re doing so.
It really hit home for me when I saw this tweet from SXSW (where “checking in” became a geek phenomenon – and had a charity element to it with PayPal & Microsoft donating money per check-in registered), coupled with danah boyd’s outstanding keynote on privacy online.
Let’s not make it this easy for people, shall we?