These days businesses we frequent seem to know more and more about us. They know what we look at on their websites so they can pitch similar products in an effort to get us to part with more money. They know our shopping histories — yes, even the things you ordered online because it felt more “private” and anonymous than going into a store. They might even know where we are.
It’s that last one that really gives me goosebumps. So let’s talk a bit about geolocation.
Geolocation: Stalking or Savvy Marketing?
We know consumers aren’t always the brightest bunch when it comes to the information they share online. We have a tendency to share too much at times. And we’ve all heard the saying that once something’s on the Internet, it can never be fully deleted. With people losing jobs (among other things) due to oversharing or sharing less-than-appropriate information via social media outlets, you would think we would have learned by now.
But we haven’t. In steps geolocation to make social media all the creepier and all the more invasive of people’s privacy. With the announcements of Facebook Places, I think it’s a good time for a quick reminder about that creepy side of geolocation.
Let me be clear. I don’t use geolocation services, and have no intention to. I would find that to be an invasion of my privacy, and I value certain aspects of that privacy very strongly. I’ve also been in a position of being stalked quite a while back, so I’m hypersensitive to geolocation services that essentially tell people where I am and where I am not. And that’s my choice. That said, I do see the value in such services when used carefully for social groups and even marketing.
If you’re not familiar with geolocation tools in general, here’s a nice breakdown of geolocation and other location-specific social media tools from Mark Fidelman:
Where Geolocation Privacy Concerns Come In
Geolocation services are nothing new at this point. And I haven’t gone off about them to any large extent, because there’s hardly room to complain about privacy issues when people are making a very blatant choice to tell people their business publicly. That’s on them.
But what freaks me out slightly more in the Places announcements is the talk of tagging (and I’m not saying this doesn’t exist elsewhere — just that the emphasis on it grabbed my attention). In other words, you don’t even have to tell people where you are. Others can do it for you, and on a much larger scale than back in the day when a friend might have called another friend and mentioned you were out together. Now, no matter how much you try to protect your own privacy by not sharing where you are all the time, others with you can tag you and let the world know anyway. It seems you can untag yourself. But I’m of the mind that no one should have to play clean-up to protect their privacy if they were smart enough not to publish the information in the first place. If the information isn’t yours to publish, leave others out of it.
Another creepy issue that was brought up in a recent ZDnet article is that apparently your home can be shared as a place by people who might be visiting you. In other words, your oh-so-wonderful friends might be broadcasting your home address to people with absolutely no right to know where you live (and people you don’t want knowing where you live). That I find incredibly disturbing.
And of course there’s the whole stalker-friendly aspect of it — letting people know where you are, when you’re not at home, etc. In the latter sense, it’s “nice” to see how burglar-friendly social media has the potential to be. I’m curious how many people would still have their paper delivery stopped while traveling (do people still get papers delivered?) so they aren’t telling the world they’re away, but at the same time they tell people when their home is empty on a daily basis via geolocation tools.
Certainly you can take steps to protect your privacy. You can avoid using these services as I do. You can use them minimally. You can avoid sharing other people’s location without their permission. But you can’t prevent it all unfortunately, as long as other people can still share information about you. And that my friends is a creepy and downright disturbing trend in social media — at least in my eyes.
What do you think of others being able to share your location with the world? Should you have to clean it up later, or should it be prevented altogether? In what ways do you use geolocation services currently, and would you say you have a tendency to keep it safe or overshare? Leave a comment to tell us your thoughts.