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Fear Doesn’t Stop Social Media Users from Revealing their Location




youarehereSusan is having coffee at Starbucks in Santa Monica. Mike is seeing a movie at Edwards Fashion Island. Cynthia is at Home feeling Left Out!

Geolocation applications are taking hold of the social media world thanks to the proliferation of smart phones and wifi hot spots. Now it’s not enough to Twitter what you had for lunch, you have to have an application that announces the exact restaurant for all to see. It’s a strange trend, given the number of people that are constantly taking aim at Facebook’s privacy issues. What’s even stranger is that, according to a survey by cyber-security firm Webroot, 55% of people who use geolocation applications are actually concerned about the lack of privacy.

Yes, you read that right. In an article published by SFGate, it was noted that 45% of social media users said they were afraid that burglars might use location information to rob their homes while they’re away. 49% of women, said they feared that the information could be used by stalkers.

These are real fears, and yet these same people continue to tweet their locations and strive to become the mayor of the Fifth Street Playground on Foursquare. 29% of the people surveyed admitted to sharing their locations with people other than friends and one in nine used a location-based tool to meet a stranger (digitally or in person).

Jeff Horne, Director of Threat Research at Webroot says,

“People often get excited about the new features available on social networks and forget about the power of the Internet and the amount of valuable information they give away through the simple act of updating their status and ‘checking-in’ at their current location.”

Most of the people who use geolocation applications say they share that information only with friends. Unfortunately, companies with better security than Foursquare have had major data leaks, so any information shared via social media is at risk of falling into unintended hands.

Now that Twitter has added an option to show your location when you tweet, there are even more ways to tell your friends, and your enemies, where you are at any given moment. And you’ll do it, even though more than half of you worry that a simple tweet might steer you right into trouble.

  • http://craigt.co.uk Craig Thornton

    This is a really interesting article and the use of location data within apps and services is something which takes a little while to figure out. And the user really should figure it out if they are particularly concerned about privacy.

    Most (all?) apps and services allow the user to switch location data on and off and a lot of them allow this on-the-fly (for example when composing a tweet there is typically a single click icon to publish (or not) your location). However, different apps and services do this in slightly different ways so it pays to take the time to really figure out how each of the services you use treat location data and allow you to enable or disable it.

    I am always careful not to add location information to tweets from home or from, say, my kids school or friends houses. When I’m out and about I’m happy to publish where I am, it’s a great way of meeting up with people or letting your friends and family know where you are and what you are doing.

    However, in order to be that selective with your location data you must take the time to understand how it works and how the services enable you to actively select whether to publish the information or not.

    @craigt44

    • Cynthia Boris

      Kid’s schools! I didn’t even think of that one. Yes, I’m paranoid enough about the safety of children to say you shouldn’t be tweeting school or playground data.

  • René Hüftlein

    People are frightened of getting robbed while there are not at home? Well, wouldn’t it be much more horrible being home while getting robbed?!

    If someone plans to steel my furniture they could just wait in front of my flat and wait until I leave. If they’d observed my habbits they could be sure I’ll not be at home as long as sun hasn’t set. I would feel honored if somebody told me afterwards, that they checked my geolocation while planing their burglary…

    People! Don’t be paranoid! :)

  • Sephy Hambaz

    Actually I never quite understood this.

  • http://craigt.co.uk Craig Thornton

    I don’t think it’s a case of being paranoid. I’m not paranoid about publicising my location data. However, a sensible approach minimises any potential risk (no mater how slim that risk is).

    If someone really is watching me on Twitter for less than honourable reasons, why make it easier for them by giving away my home address? Yes, they could stand outside my home and wait for me to leave but publicising my home address on Twitter makes it that little bit easier.

    Embrace location data and the services supporting and utilising it. They are fantastic. It’s a great way to share with friends and family what you are doing and where you are :)

    I prefer to “er” on the side of caution, that’s all.

    @craigt44