The social media scene has been buzzing this week with stories about PleaseRobMe.com, a new site which aggregates publicly shared posts from shiny new location-based service Foursquare. The aim of the site is to draw attention to the risks posed by posting your current location publicly.
While the way the site goes about things is deliberately distasteful (it wouldn’t grab many headlines with “Out And About” as a name, after all), there’s a useful message behind the obnoxiousness. As the site points out, “So here we are; on one end we’re leaving lights on when we’re going on a holiday, and on the other we’re telling everybody on the internet we’re not home.”
After chatting with a journalist today who says she’s been seeing more and more reports of people cancelling their Foursquare accounts as they realize the implications of the service, I reflected that it’s a good time to consider a few privacy basics:
- Think it through. Would you share your home address with a stranger on the street? No? Then don’t do it online. Also, if you check into your home address on Foursquare, you need your head examined. As the makers of PleaseRobMe.com said for an interview with WebProNews, “We think it’s important to realize that something you post on Twitter isn’t necessarily private. Everybody is able to read it, unless you protect your messages.”
- Choose your friends carefully. More so than on some other sites, “friending” people on location-based services gives them real access to your life. I have a couple of hundred of friend requests on Foursquare which I’ll probably never accept because I don’t know the person requesting the connection. Think before you accept everyone.
- Find the right service for you. While Foursquare doesn’t have too many privacy settings (though you can turn off the auto-tweet function), only your friends can see your updates. If that’s not enough for you, other services like BrightKite (as RWW points out) offer more rigorous controls.
- Don’t blow it out of proportion. If you go to work every day; the regular, predictable period when you’re out is probably much more of a target for burglars than your pint at the local pub (especially if you aren’t actually attached at the hip to your partner and they don’t automatically follow you everywhere you go).
What do you think? Are these kinds of stories changing your opinion of location-based services or are these concerns overblown?