I’d rather check out than check in

By BroadVision on April 14, 2011

New York has joined a list of 13 other cities in recognizing April 16th as “Foursquare Day.” From what I gather, all you have to do is get a bunch of people together in the same place and “check in” to Foursquare on 4/16 (get it? Four squared is 16). Nice.

Demonstrating the power of social media — I get that. But a city/government recognized geotagging day? Really?

I have a problem with geotagging — or rather, I have a problem with the lack of common sense many seem to exhibit when using geotagging services. To a certain extent, I understand why so many people have jumped on the bandwagon; after all, we live in a “share everything” world now. But I simply haven’t been able to embrace the concept. Sure, broadcasting your current location to your network of friends and acquaintances is cool. You can discover bars, restaurants and other new haunts you never even heard of. However, while I can see the benefits and power of this kind of service, I’m of the feeling that not enough people exert the right level of caution when they use it.

I see it in my Facebook feed everyday:

“Joe Schmoe has checked in at _____.”
“Joe Schmoe has checked in at _____ with _____ and _____.”
“Joe Schmoe has checked in at HOME.” (and then it lists the address!)

Call me stingy, but even though I’m big on sharing certain information and staying connected I generally don’t want people to know where I am and who I’m with. Anyone else I’d want to share my location with would probably be there with me. Maybe my friends don’t want others to know where they are, either. And finally, I most certainly don’t want anyone to know where my home is and whether or not I’m home.

Granted, all of these are user-controlled, and it’s up to the individual using Foursquare or whatever other geotagging service they’re on to broadcast at his/her discretion. The main problem is that most people don’t think about the negative aspects of all this. Say you have your broadcasts set to be shared with friends only. But are you broadcasting across Facebook, Twitter and other channels as well? Are those settings properly  configured? In spite of your immediate precautions, it’s still quite easy for anyone with an inkling of bad intention to either find out where you are (or aren’t), and take advantage of that.

I know a couple of people whose houses have been broken into because they checked in somewhere and thus told the world they weren’t at home. Then there’s the public story of Carri Bugbee, a social media strategist from Portland, Oregon who was stalked and harassed by an unknown individual after checking in at a restaurant. Needless to say I’m sure there are more out there.

The level of connectivity available to us these days is astounding. If you’re not interacting in person, you’re probably on the phone. Or texting. Or chatting and talking on Skype. Or on Facebook and Twitter. Technology and social media have made it so easy for people to always be in touch, one way or another. Geotagging services have taken this to the next level.

I want to reiterate that I am not against Foursquare or geotagging services in general, but just wish more was done to educate the general population about the dangers of sharing everything. The more you’re aware, the safer you’ll be. If you’re going to do it, make sure you know for a fact who can see what you’re broadcasting, and even then exercise caution. You just never know.

I’m going to get a drink now…but sorry, I’d rather not tell you where.