Posting Your Location Is Asking for Trouble
Broadcasting your location using real-time social media may open you up to serious real-world security risks.
Location based services such as Foursquare and Facebook's recently-released Places feature allow users to check in at real world locations, and to tag their friends as present at the same spot.
For all their conveniences, these innovations could have harmful, unintended results, says Detective Cheryl Crispin of the New York Police Department.
Putting information out there about where you are, whether it's on a piece of paper in your window or onlineit just doesn't make sense, she explained. It's basically saying 'Come rob my house.'
Divulging private information about your current location makes you more likely to become a victim, said Crispin. She urged people to exercise the same good judgment online as they would anywhere else.
If you use the Internet, you have to have the good sense to protect yourself.
Crispin did not offer any benefits to using location-based services, but said technology such as Facebook and Foursquare could help the police.
We use any resources we can to investigate crimes, she said.
Common sense is, to one Foursquare user, the overarching policy that guides his behavior on the site.
Daniel Sheehan, a Geospatial Analyst at Columbia University, has been using Foursquare for about four months. He understands the security issues, both digital and personal, that arise with the service.
I think there is the potential for people to use the data for malicious purposes, so users should develop a sense of street smarts when it comes to the web and who you share your data with, Sheehan said. People have been notoriously unintelligent about how they act online, and a certain degree of web smarts is needed to be safe .
An example of web smarts, in Sheehan's opinion: Don't report that you're away from home for two weeks.
Because his Foursquare network is small, and he keeps his phone number off his profile and uses an online handle rather than his real name, Sheehan, 27, doesn't worry too much about posting his location.
I have no problem with putting my info on Foursquare because my network of friends is so small, he said. Facebook, where people have hundreds of friendsI would feel more wary about sharing location data.
If his Foursquare network grew, Sheehan said he would reconsider how he used the service.
A high school teacher in Northern New Jersey, Sue Logeman is vehemently against location-based services, for reasons personal and professional.
A Facebook user for about a year-and-a-half, Logeman, 49, was recently the victim of a Phishing scam while on summer vacation in England. An email saying she was stranded in England and needed money immediately wired to her was sent to her entire contacts list, and also posted as her Facebook status.
The day after the email was sent, Facebook contacted Logeman with a message that indicated she might be the victim of a scam. Her account was deactivated that day.
Personally, Logeman is hesitant to make it known where she is at all times. In her professional capacity in the classroom, she calls Foursquare and Places dangerous, especially to her students.
My students are trusting and think everyone's nice, she said. I think this could be a big issue not for a 49-year old, but for young people, who post every move they make.
When school resumes, Logeman said she plans to talk to her students about the risks associated with posting personal information online.
Despite the dangers associated, Foursquare and Places could prove beneficial. Sheehan is interested in how location based services can assist industries such as health care and public policy.
I like the idea that somehow I can parse out the xml code that is my location feed and create a dataset of my whereabouts, he explained. Sheehan said he would be interested to examine a pattern of the places he's been over the course of a week, month, or a whole year.
The technology has the power to help on a larger scale as well.
Going forward, I'd like to see these programs used for things like health mapping, to see if people are walking enough, are they taking the best path or why certain paths are avoided, said Sheehan. Location based data could be extremely useful.