The dangers of over-sharing and location-based services

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: July 6, 2011

Very seldom do I go anywhere and not tweet about it, or update my Facebook, or Google+, or Foursquare ... you get the picture. We are as connected as we have ever been. Sharing your experiences, what you see, where you go and what you do with everyone around and electronically connected to you has never been so effortless. Your friends are always only a status message, text or check-in away.

It is also very easy to get carried away and to focus too much on the goal at hand – earning the mayorship at the local coffee shop or making your friends envious of your trip to the newest sushi joint without them. Little do we stop and think of the risks that we take each time we check-in somewhere or let our friends know where we are and what we're up to. In fact, if you take moment to think about it, there are several dangers tied to services like Gowalla, Foursquare and the numerous other location-based networks. Here are a few things to keep in mind next time you check-in somewhere:

When and where you check-in

The easiest thing to overlook is when you are checking in. Think about it. If you check into the same places every day around the same time, you're creating a solid routine. Someone could easily deduce the best time to make an unexpected trip to your humble abode.

Not only is it important to keep a conscious about when you are checking in, but where. If you're away on vacation and you check in to a resort that is 400 miles from where you live, someone who wouldn't – and shouldn't – normally know about your trip may find out. But letting someone know you're on vacation isn't your only vulnerability. I've seen literally hundreds of check-ins at people's homes. (I actually used to do this myself until I realized how dangerous and careless it is.) These check-ins, as harmless as they may seem, are the easiest way to give up too much information, which could easily land in the wrong hands.

Pictured above is a check-in of mine from earlier today, shared through Twitter. Even through a secondary service, the address and even a snapshot of the Maps location is shared in the Tweet. Be mindful of your check-ins. Safety isn't always as cut and dry as setting privacy controls and choosing your friends wisely.

Who you share with

To dig a little deeper into privacy settings, Foursquare is pretty black and white. That said, even though you choose who your friends are and who is allowed to see the places you check into, Foursquare also gives the option to share your check-ins with other networks. If you share your check-ins with Twitter and/or Facebook, the privacy settings of those respective networks should also be taken into consideration. If they are not up to date, you are broadcasting your check-ins for anyone and everyone to read.

“Friends”

Although we will all claim to know everyone in our friends lists at any given time, there are the occasional "friends" I stumble upon that I never remember adding. Usually, I will just delete them immediately. But still ... how did they get there? And who are they?

Again, this ties into your privacy settings. People may not always have to be your friend or part of the same network to see where you are or what you're up to. As an example, a woman from St. Petersburg, Flordia was harassed by collections agencies on Facebook. Others weren't quite as lucky as simply being heckled (where the agency was found to be crossing their bounds). A local news station ran a story last night about a couple who checked into a restaurant (not sure which service) and unbeknownst to them, their car then repossessed while they ate dinner. There are a million different ways people can view what you are doing and use that information against you (i.e.: future and current employers, significant others, etc.).

What information you share

This one may sound or seem a little self-explanatory, but you would be surprised of some of the things that I've seen on Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter and essentially every other network I'm on. As a helpful tip, don't post everything you think of to Twitter, especially when you forget to lock your car and accidentally leave the keys in the ignition. (I haven't actually witnessed a post this blatantly stupid, but some come pretty close.)

Closet stalkers

Probably the creepiest and most realistic danger of all is the closet stalker. A friend of mine told me about her battle with Foursquare. A friend of hers on the network randomly appears at the places she checks into … after she checks in, of course. This has happened on several occasions, at different places. As an avid lover of the check-in service, she doesn't want to give it up, but "unfriending" someone – to hide her location from them – on Foursquare isn't so simple. Fortunately, there are ways to solve this issue like getting Foursquare customer support or law enforcement involved. Just beware of who you befriend and share with.

I know some of these tips may seem obvious, but some of the things I've seen over the past few months with location services have simply blown my mind. People have grown to trust the Internet and the people on it entirely too much. Remember folks, it's a jungle out there. And there are a lot of people out there prowling for their next victim. Are you asking to be robbed?