Are Location Based Services Safe?

Like anything else from your car to your toaster to your PayPal account – yes and no.

On the business side, it’s great to set up a check-in spot for your headquarters on Foursquare and Gowalla. There is little risk involved, and trends indicate that being present on these location-based services (LBS) will be beneficial to companies as proximity marketing gains momentum. (Proximity marketing: marketing that targets an audience based on their GPS location. Specifically in this case, through your mobile phone. We think this will be big.)

As a personal user, it can be fun to collect badges or prizes, to compete for mayorships, and just see where your friends have checked-in. There are risks, though. The tips below are helpful hints for minimizing risk on Foursquare and Gowalla, but they are by no means guarantees. The very nature of these platforms is to let people know precisely where you are, and there’s no absolute promise that only your friends will ever see that information.

If you accept those risks though, the tips below can help keep your information under your control.

  1. Don’t become Foursquare or Gowalla friends with anyone you do not know. You might receive many requests from acquaintances, local figures, even from the newspaper or a nearby restaurant. You might know the owner of the restaurant, but do you know for a fact they are the ones reading the updates? When we suggest you only friend people you know on Foursquare, we mean a person (not a group) whom you literally do not mind knowing exactly where you are at any given moment. Just stop and think before you hit accept. This may mean you have 3 Foursquare friends, but truly, that’s better than total strangers knowing where you are.
  2. Don’t “tell Twitter.” The second you push a check-in to Twitter, it’s public to the entire world. Hesitate even to let your friends on Facebook see that update. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Foursquare still has some pretty solid bricks in its “walled garden,” but the second that information gets to other platforms, it is way more likely to become public.
  3. Before you check-in, ask yourself this question, “If all the walled gardens fell and everyone could see everything, would anything really bad happen because of this check-in?” If not (and the cards usually seem to fall that way), go for it!

We hope you will sign up for Foursquare or Gowalla, because they’re wicked fun and they’re catching on. Leave comments with more tips to help people practice safe checking-in!

3 thoughts on “Are Location Based Services Safe?

  1. Extra points for “wicked fun”! That's a term I first heard in 1978 when I moved to Maine, and even then my parents let me know that “wicked” was a term they were using in high school in San Diego in the early 60's.

    1. Ha! Well it's still very popular in the Boston area. Let's see if we can bring it back into common usage. Also “righteous.” As in “Yo, those acid wash jeans are righteous, man!”

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