Because I watched Will Smith’s “Enemy of the State” back in 1998.
In the film, Smith plays a lawyer who accidentally becomes the target of a corrupt politician who runs a secret NSA operation. Smith tries to escape, but the NSA agents track him down using the latest in surveillance technology – from bugs in his shoes to spy satellites. Smith spends the film doing a lot of running.
If he kept posting his location on Foursquare – the movie would have been less than five minutes long. “I’m at the Starbucks on Fifth Street.” Rogue NSA agents show up and shoot him. Cue credits.
I’m being a bit facetious, of course. Foursquare, for those not familiar with it, is a location-based social network (LBS) that is downloaded onto a user’s smart phone. It allows users to post their current location. Visit a location enough times and you become the mayor. The service is getting rave reviews for its potential for business, particularly restaurants, bars, and attractions like amusement parks and art museums. Foursquare isn’t the only LBS, but currently the most popular (another services are Google Buzz and BrightKite).
There’s lots of potential in LBS and new GPS technology in mobile devices for businesses to offer coupons and incentives as well as to meet up with friends and colleagues. But I’ve avoided Foursquare and other LBS sites for two primary reasons. The first one is simple. You can’t be everywhere.
As social media consultant and author David Meerman Scott notes in a blog post about why he doesn’t use LinkedIn: “I meet people every single day on my blog, on others’ blogs and on Twitter, and at this stage I am not looking for another way to connect.”
So I choose not to use Foursquare mostly because I’m already using Facebook, LinkedIn, HighTalk and other channels. But I’ve also decided that LBS is where I’m going to draw the line in protecting my privacy and my family. There are some inherent risks to posting your exact location all the time and users of LBS need to be cognizant of these risks.
The web site PleaseRobMe.com makes that point quite convincingly. PleaseRobMe.com aggregates the feeds from LBS to with the headline – Please Rob Me. The site isn’t serious, but is trying to make a point of privacy. Broadcasting that you are not at home or on vacation on the Internet calls attention to the fact that your house is, well, empty – and could be ready for looting. As PleaseRobMe.com notes:
“The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you’re definitely not… home. 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.”
But getting your house robbed isn’t the only risk of LBS. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few other dangers:
- How about stalkers? An old boyfriend who can now follow your every move as you go about your day
- How about a rapist that knows when a woman is home alone because her husband or roommates have posted that they are on vacation or on a business trip?
- How about process servers being able to deliver those divorce papers with relative ease
- How about a Repo Man looking to grab your car?
But let’s not forget the fact that you’re invading your own privacy. You’re broadcasting to the world your patterns – your favorite and not so favorite destinations. And all of this is saved and archived and searchable – for as long as the Internet is around. There’s no telling now what will be embarrassing or detrimental to you in 10 or 15 or 20 years. For example:
- You become the pastor of a community church and a member of your flock discovers that you were mayor of a punk-rock club in Chicago in your twenties
- You become a school teacher and it’s later discovered that you used to frequent gambling casinos and strip clubs in your youth
- Do you really want to be mayor of a tattoo parlor?
There are probably dozens of different scenarios you can imagine.
Now some of these privacy concerns aren’t exclusive to LBS, but for ALL social networks. We all need to be careful about what we post, the opinions we express, and the photographs and videos we decided to share. But for me, at this point, LBS brings social networking an intimate level of sharing that I’m not willing to take at this point.
I reserve the right to change my mind in the future, of course.
So what about you? Do you use Foursquare or another LBS? Are you concerned about privacy or do the benefits outweigh the risks?