Common Sense Safety Tips For Foursquare And Gowalla

by Jason Falls |

Location-based platforms like Foursquare and Gowalla (and I heard Friday Facebook might be unveiling location-based data soon) are the hot new thing in the tech world. That means the rest of the world will probably think they’re cool about 6-9 months from now. Like many Web 2.0 companies, the location-based services have open source coding and Facebook-like privacy ignorance in their DNA. It’s astounding how little concern has been given to people’s privacy, safety and security with these softwares. But I blame the users almost as much as the companies themselves.

Jennifer Leggio pointed out some of the hidden privacy concerns around Foursquare on ZDNet last week. Among her issues: Mayorship is public information whether you want it to be or not; Random people creeping up on you using the “I’m in the room,” alerts; and broadcasting who you’re with to your networks. Maybe they don’t want people knowing where they are. Her concerns are all valid, but let’s take a look at what you, the user, can do to use location-based services and still protect yourself and others.

1. Never Check-In At Home

Treasure Map by Filip Fuxa on Shutterstock.comI don’t care how little Mark Zuckerberg regards your privacy, broadcasting that you’re at home, or even where home is, opens up a potential can-o-worms. It’s more than Not only do you not want people easily knowing when you’re not there, potentially heightening your chances of someone doing something unsightly to your home, but there are a whole lot of people out there you probably don’t want to know where you live in the first place. Yes, if this concerns you, there are a lot more steps to take to feel better (paying to not be listed in the white pages, making sure you weren’t out front when the Google Street team drove by, etc.). And yes, if someone wanted to find out where you lived, they probably could. But do you want to broadcast it to plant the seed of misdeed with the semi-stalker crowd?

2. Never Check-In At Someone Else’s House

You don’t want your privacy compromised, but don’t forget about that of others. Checking in at Mom and Dad’s house is just as risky as checking in at your own, only you’ll feel a hell of a lot more guilty for the slip. When in doubt about someone else’s privacy or choice, don’t. Good rule of thumb.

3. Never Check-In At Your Kid’s School

This should be a no-brainer. But you would be shocked at how many parents feel comfortable saying they just dropped Bobby and Suzie off at X location. Extend that thinking beyond the school, too and don’t tell people your kids are at a friend’s house, etc. Yes, this is probably more paranoia than wholly warranted advice, but when it comes to our children, we have the right to be more safe than sorry, right?

4. Never Check In With Someone Without Their Permission

Leggio was right. Connecting your Foursquare (or Gowalla for that matter) to Twitter or Facebook broadcasts your updates to the world. When you say you’re with someone and connected to those networks to publish your location updates, you are telling the public stream where your friend is. If they haven’t given you permission to do so, you’ve potentially compromised their privacy. In most cases, it’s not a big deal, but again: Safe or sorry?

5. Never Check In At Your Girlfriend’s House

That is, of course, if you’re married. (This is a joke. Don’t get any big ideas about silly ole me.) Actually, the concept isn’t something to laugh at. I’m betting there’s a two-timing ho (or man ho) out there dumb enough to check in at the booty call. Just be aware that you’ll soon then be checking in from either the doghouse or a homeless shelter, which you probably deserve.

Privacy, safety and security are critical issues to consider when using any technology. The ease of use of our Web 2.0 world helps us forget that. But let’s not forget it to our own detriment one day. Yes, if someone wants to commit a crime against your or your family they probably will find a way to do so and location-based services probably won’t help them.

But do you really want to expose yourself to threats because you didn’t think it through?

What other must-nots would you list for Foursquare or Gowalla? The comments, as always, are yours.

IMAGE: Treasure Map by Filip Fuxa on

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About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).