Privacy in a World with Location Services

A lot of people have an iPhone.  If you’re using a a 3G or 3GS iPhone, you have GPS in your phone.  This GPS feature makes using location aware applications and services extremely useful because it’s easier to let the GPS pinpoint your location than it is for you tell a service where you are.  Location based social networks like FourSquare and Gowalla, have constructed businesses built around this idea and they’re pretty fun to participate in.  The more spaces you add and visit, the more “prestige” you get.

However, the other day when I was using Gowalla on my iPhone to check in at a place I was at (local business close to my home), I noticed something when Gowalla pulled up the locations I was close to.  What I noticed was an entry labeled “[PERSON’S] House”  (I have omitted the person’s name to protect their privacy at  least a little).  Who in their right mind thought that it was okay to add a personal’s physical residence (where they live) to a social network like this?  This is a huge invasion of privacy on that person’s part.  And if the person who’s house it is, said it was okay, why would they do that?  There are lots of crazies in the world why would you give everyone pinpoint accuracy to where you live.  It’s just not a smart move at all.

I understand that the younger generation has lived in a world of Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and other social networks.  Things like this just weren’t around when I was in my teens (no, I had to use IRC and newsgroups and the web was still young).  Granted, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that everyone on the internet is a child pornographer, perv, or creep.  But people like that do exist and while we have these social networks, one should still exhibit some discretion when they post information to the public internet.  Especially on networks that revolve around location.

To be fair, I do participate in location based social networks (Gowalla fan/user here), but I’m very particular about where I check in at.  Also, when using Tweetie 2’s (iPhone Twitter app) new geo-tagging feature, I turn it off when I’m at home.  I don’t need that level of privacy broken.  Sure, you could probably find the area I live in quite easily based on tweets, pictures, and other miscellaneous info I’ve posted around the internet.  But exact address, nope sorry (unless I’ve designated you allowed to on Facebook which if that’s the case you probably already know it anyway).  But I won’t geo-tag a tweet from home, that’s too much information the internet does not need to have cached somewhere.

People, I implore you, use common sense when using location based social networks.  Don’t put people’s personal residences in to the database and sure as heck don’t allow others to do it (even with consent).  It’s just not a good idea and too much potential bad can come from it.

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4 Responses to Privacy in a World with Location Services

  1. We definitely advocate common sense in spot creation, as well as spot check-ins. We find that almost all of the home spots like that in Gowalla are made by the homeowners themselves, and very rarely a visitor. We encourage people to be thoughtful before they do that, and we quickly delete any such spots upon request.It is rare, not only in our experience but also in actively trying to keep an eye on these kinds of spots, that those home spots are made by someone who doesn't live there.

  2. Michael Koby says:

    That's (kind of) good to hear. I still feel that in some things, a certain level of discretion and privacy should be maintained, and seeing such a spot show up in the list of nearby spots definitely made me go “what the!” because it just seemed like a little much.Good to know that you guys delete such spots on request though.

  3. Eisley says:

    I gave you an award… feel free NOT to display it 🙂 EJ

  4. Eisley says:

    I gave you an award… feel free NOT to display it 🙂 EJ

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