Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sharing Your Location Online - Secure?

There has been a spur of applications and social sites like Foursquare that allow and even encourage you to share your location. It seems as though many people believe, “This is totally secure, I just want to tell my friends where I am!” 

If this is your rationale, think again. Yiannis Kakavas, a graduate student at Germany’s Technischen University developed an application called “Creepy.” This application aggregates geolocation information from your tweets, Facebook check-ins, and other geolocation information that you share to create a map of where you are. Disturbing isn’t it? This application was created as a cautionary tale to posting your location online. In addition to this application, a whole website has been created to remind people of the danger of sharing your location online. This website is It simply aggregates publicly shared check-ins from various sites and applications. It’s becoming far too easy to determine where people are thanks to these check-in functions.

Someone I've never met who added me on Foursquare.
As a personal experiment, I decided to set up a Foursquare account and mention just one location I had been to (after the fact, so it didn’t register as a check-in) and see how many people would add me. Note: Adding me give me access to all of your check-ins. After just a few months, I have 29 people (two I’ve actually met) who were willing to share all of their check-ins with me. What is the benefit of sharing your location with someone you’ve never met? The answer to this question still eludes me.

I can see from a socializing standpoint how this might seem like a great service. What a convenient way to find out where your friends (the ones you know in person) are and meet up! But there can be a downside as proven by the application Creepy and The phrase “buyer beware” comes to mind here. It is really up to us as users to be weary of what we share online and who we share it with. If you’re still dead set on sharing your location, be sure to set your check-ins to private and don’t add people to your Foursquare profile (etc.) that you’ve never met.

I'll be taking a vacation soon and believe me, you won't know where or when I'm gone until I return. No check-ins for this gal. ;)

For more information on this topic, check out these articles: