Commentary

You Can Check In, But You Can't Check Out: Users Worried by Location Apps

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There are certain moments where human foibles come to the fore in all their idiosyncratic, contradictory glory. The conflicted response to location-based social network services is a pretty good example. At least the results of a new survey from Webroot have me scratching my head.  

Webroot (which specializes in Internet security serving consumer, enterprise, and SMB clients) conducted a survey of 1,500 social network users who own mobile devices with geolocation capabilities in June. Within this group, Webroot found 39% were already using geolocation-based tools -- but over half of this group (55%) also said they were worried about privacy concerns related to services that identify your location. Meanwhile 45% of the geolocation-users said they were concerned about alerting burglars to potential, heh, windows of opportunity when they're away from home.  

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But wait, it gets more paradoxical!  It turns out geolocation-users, for all their privacy concerns, also engage in really ill-advised -- let's call it stupid -- activities jeopardizing their privacy: 29% said they have shared their location with people other than their friends, and 11% have used a geolocation service to meet a stranger, digitally or in person (which could be dangerous if you don't have a very good idea that this person is real, and not, say, a burglar).  

Unsurprisingly, young adults are more likely to share more information: 27% of males ages 18-29 share their location with friends every day, and 10% check in daily at specific locations (which would allow potential miscreants to construct a fairly reliable schedule). By the same token, women are more likely to express concern about the potential threat posed by geolocation services, with 49% saying they're very worried about a stalker using their information, compared to 32% of men.  

In keeping with the contradictory nature of these findings, I have two different responses which don't really line up. At the practical level, looking for lessons that could help move the market forward, location-based social networks and services clearly have to do a better job with user security -- including not just protecting user information, but alerting users to potential risks as well as simple, easy-to-use measures for protecting themselves and their property.  

Still, another part of me has to laugh at the spectacle of thousands of savvy professionals throwing commonsense, and caution, to the wind. It seems to encapsulate our fascination and fear of new things, like the ape-people in "2001" confronting the monolith. The heedless risk-tasking also reflects the age-old desire to have your cake and it eat, too: "Wow, being mayor of this bar is cool -- and if I get burgled, so be it!"

3 comments about "You Can Check In, But You Can't Check Out: Users Worried by Location Apps".
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  1. Mark Burrell from Tongal, July 19, 2010 at 5:35 p.m.

    Always wondered what the badge was for being robbed while letting the world know you are across town and checked in at Mojitoville.

  2. Dana OMalley, July 20, 2010 at 12:30 p.m.

    I absolutely agree that privacy is a legitimate concern when it comes to location-based social sites... most users just don't understand the potential ramifications of the "check-in". However, to not include any information around the use of privacy controls in this survey seems a bit misleading. For instance, I would have answered 'yes' to the questions "Do you use a geo-location service?", "Are you concerned about being burgled as a result of using these services?", and "Have you shared your location with people other than their friends?" I use FourSquare and I have it connected to Facebook, but I also have both sites locked down so that only my friends can view my activity. So while in this article I'd be categorized as a savvy professional throwing caution to the wind, that's actually not necessarily the case. I'd be extremely interested to see how users of social sites are utilizing privacy settings, as well...

  3. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing, August 4, 2010 at 8:56 a.m.

    I think the key is broadcasting your location only to your own personal network. Vs to everyone on Twitter would be a good start.

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