Where’s The Line With Location-Based Apps and Privacy?

tin-foil-hat.jpgLoic Le Meur wrote yesterday about My Tracks – an application for Android phones which uses your phone’s GPS chip to track your location in real-time. Along with location, you can use it to look back later at things like your elevation, distance and speed.

This isn’t the first app to offer this kind of functionality. Google Latitude offers auto-updating location features, and I’ve used a Garmin Forerunner 405 for a while to log my runs.

It seems that location-based apps like Foursquare are so ‘last week’ already. As Loic says, “why not just check in automatically if I accepted that the app does this for me”?

While it’s much easier to have an app that doesn’t need manually updating, the check-in system does offer its own benefits. One of the key ones is enhanced security.

There are likely times you just don’t want to broadcast your location. What’s more, you may also want to reduce the likelihood of some creepo finding out where you live because you forgot to turn the app off.

Setting my tin-foil hat aside, I think the reality is that this kind of feature will be fairly ubiquitous in a couple of years. Set that alongside the emergence of augmented reality applications, and we’re approaching a time when Minority Report-style advertising is a reality.

The question is will there eventually be a backlash to the erosion of personal privacy that this kind of application entails? Will concerns over this aspect prevent mainstream adoption of this kind of tool?

13 Responses toWhere’s The Line With Location-Based Apps and Privacy?

  • I used a few of these (Well, mostly Brightkite) for a while and actually didn’t mind the checkin system – and I’m with Loic on the point of “let it check in for me automatically if I set it up to” – but only for specific locations.

    I’ve heard the theory of “ghost” checking into locations, too. For example – I’ll check into the Starbucks or the Tim’s while I’m hanging out getting coffee (if I’m OK with people finding me) but then might check in at th emall or something on my way home. I’m a pedestrian most of the time and following me to my house is just way too easy – so the mall checkin would be a nice throw-off-the-trail move.

    Speaking of where I live – my “Home” check-in? The grocery store down the street.

  • Man, I don’t care where people know I am. Funnily enough, I’m more weary of broadcasting things like, “I’m at McDonald’s” over “I’m at home and this is my address.” Haha.

    Like the idea of knowing where I am automatically checking me in, though!

  • First off, that has got to be one of the best photos to accompany a blog post EVAH. Love it.

    I live in the sticks, so apps like FourSquare and Gowalla haven’t really made their way here yet. But I certainly don’t like the idea of automatic check-ins. I’m glad you brought up the creepo factor – I don’t think enough people are talking about this. Not to be a fear monger, but I see so many young women in cities like NY and Chicago checking-in where ever they go. It’s probably fine, but there are plenty of creeps out there and this kind of location tracking makes it way too easy for predators. I’ve heard that women especially should only check-in on FourSquare when leaving a location, not when arriving.

    Besides the creepo factor, I think there’s also just not a reason to always automatically tell people where I am. My clients/boss don’t need to know if I’m working from home or the library or a coffee shop or at another client’s site, and my friends don’t need to know that I decided to hit the bar with one group of pals and not the other. While I certainly share plenty of location-based info in my own tweets, it’s different because I control it and can decided when and when not to share.

  • The thing with many of the social marketing apps (Foursquare, BrightKite, Gowalla, etc.) is that right now, most of them are just cool features that allow people to know where you are. Very few have the ability to actually be USEFUL, which, to me, is the true measure of whether something needs to or should be adopted by the masses.

    I actually wrote about this today on PR Breakfast Club: http://prbreakfastclub.com/2009/12/30/geotagging-will-it-go-beyond-cool/

    Essentially, my point was that while it may be cool now to let your friends know exactly where you are, in real time, what is really needed is the ability for these apps to help make our lives truly easier and more productive. And that means the ability to say, check in at your local grocery store 30 minutes before you plan to shop there, and then, several coupons pop up on the screen from products that you have recently purchased, and via augemented reality, you can direct yourself to where those products are throughout the store.

    As it is right now, most of these apps lack mass appeal because they only have features that appeal to early adopters. Social marketing needs to move beyond just the cool factor that social media initially had, and actually develop features that will make it worth the time and effort to use them (even the auto-updating GPS features require some time/effort devotion, as you have to decide if you even want to have the constantly-updating-your-location feature turned on).


  • I’m starting to love Gowalla. At first I didn’t understand why I was using it but after a while I truly began understand the reason for this application. It’s a great way to connect with like minded individuals, and also further diversify the social bubble. I love it!

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