Foursquare, Geolocation, and INEVITABLE DOOM

1 Comment// Posted in Uncategorized by on 04.07.10.

I have a confession to make. I like the silly somewhat new geolocation games. No. I really really love them. I started off with Gowalla for the iPhone, which lured me in with the promise of picking up, trading, and dropping “Items” as I checked in to locations in my area. More recently, Foursquare has expanded and taken over my attention (my previous aversion was due to the lack of ability to add new locations, and in my po-dunk Florida town that meant it completely lacked functionality). The “mayorships”, points system, and worldwide locations provide a fun and interactive introduction to geolocation services. On my recent honeymoon, for example, my Twitter and/or Facebook followers were able to see tidbits of my trip as I “checked in” to iconic locations like Buckingham Palace.

As I become more and more enamored with the possibilities, I encounter the inevitable. As with any emerging technology, people suddenly start climbing out of the woodwork with a whole-hearted opposition to whatever is new. People who have recently taken to Twittering their diets and children’s spit-up schedules while posting iPhone pictures from their club exploits on Facebook are quite suddenly concerned with how much information they are revealing. Because with Foursquare, someone knows exactly where you are when you check in somewhere. THAT means they can then run over to your house, break in, kill your goldfish, and salt your crops – all before you return home from Walgreens, where you were just crowned Mayor!

“Yeah, I ain’t good at compooters.”

Here’s the truth. Our society has enabled people to become absolutely ignorant when it comes to technology. I have coworkers who will send me any article they can find on why Facebook is a security nightmare… adding apps gives companies access to your private information! Potential employers can look through whatever you put on Facebook and refuse to hire you, or current employers can FIRE you! Facebook ruins LIVES. Well, it’s true. If you jump into Facebook with absolutely no care for your privacy or your safety, you are wide open to anyone who wants to see what you do. But guess what? If you jump into a lake you know is filled with alligators, you might die. With the ridiculous spread of information, there is no reason that, at this point, Internet users shouldn’t be aware of the potential dangers. It’s the new common sense. You don’t open files from people you don’t know, just like you don’t accept candy from the dodgy looking chap in the white van. You don’t leave your privacy settings lax, just like you don’t keep the blinds open when you walk around naked.

free candy creep van by TraCataldo, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by  TraCataldo

But for some reason, it’s OKAY to be stupid about computers. If someone gets a virus on their computer… well, it’s just accepted as something that people DO. I told someone that my computers have not had a virus or malware for years, and it was like I had said I have titanium skin. It’s become the norm to accept that forces on the Internet are invading your privacy and causing you harm. Instead of adapting and becoming aware of the ways to combat it, it’s been… accepted.

“Why do I have to change my name? He’s the one who sucks.”

Why should I close my blinds when I’m naked? It’s my nakedness, they just shouldn’t look. Why shouldn’t I accept candy? They just shouldn’t taint it, and shame on them if someone is kidnapped! Those excuses don’t work with real world applications, and they aren’t going to work on the Internet either. If you decide to utilize it, you need to know the dangers and how to protect yourself.

When it comes to geolocation tools and apps like FourSquare, it’s true that suddenly a lot of people can see where you are at a given point. But to ignore the value CAUSED by people seeing where you are is to ignore the value of the technology altogether. Suddenly, you know if your friend is checking in for lunch right down the road from you, so you can go join them. You can fight over a Mayorship at your Wednesday BBQ lunch joint with your work buddy. Or, you can realize you’re in the same bar with a friend. You can play games to see who can get the most points or badges, see other peoples favorite dishes at the restaurant you’re about to eat in, share a photo of your favorite waiter, get drink specials for being the Mayor at a local bar. It’s fun, interactive, and growing expansively, with or without you.

Protect Yourself!

If you still want to experience the fun of collecting badges and gaining points, you can check-in to Foursquare “off-the-grid”. Your location will not be shown to any friends or put on your profile, and you can still be a part of things while keeping your location secretive. You can upload or see pictures, and you can share and see tips. You can’t become a Mayor and you miss out on some of the social value of the app, but you can still enjoy some of the really interesting benefits without the risk. If you are using the app on the iPhone, you can simply check the “Share with Friends” option to “No” and your check-in will be noted as “off-the-grid”. Similarly, Facebook has a site explaining their privacy settings and numerous articles exist on how to use them. My main suggestions? Make EVERYTHING “Friends Only” at a minimum. Public is simply not wise for anything on your page except your name, main photo, and maybe location, and Friends of Friends is just as bad. And make sure to go through EVERY SINGLE privacy setting under Application Settings… each Application has individual privacy settings, and if you don’t pay close attention to the ones you are choosing when you add an Application, you are potentially giving a lot of people access to things through that App.

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One Response to “Foursquare, Geolocation, and INEVITABLE DOOM”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lauren Kates. Lauren Kates said: I need to test something. Test! Also, new blog post! […]

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