Location Based Check-Ins and the Loss of Your Privacy and Security: The Social Media Privacy Report

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You are on vacation in a new city, exploring fun museums and eating at trendy restaurants, so of course, you want to share your every move with your friends and social network. According to a recent Microsoft Survey that was conducted for this year’s Data Privacy Day, 51 percent of respondents have done the same thing. They are using Location Based Services (LBS) such as Foursquare and Facebook Places that allow you to check-in and share your whereabouts with friends. But does it go beyond that?

Location and Privacy

Microsoft’s survey also revealed some interesting data. Out of the all the participants who ave used a LBS, 94 percent considered them to be valuable. And of course, there is certainly value to GPS, traffic updates, finding a nearby ATM or gas station or even real-time weather updates.

But what about privacy and security? Fifty-two percent expressed concerns with sharing their location with other people and even organizations. Nearly half also said that they would feel more comfortable with the technology if they could see and determine with whom they are sharing their whereabouts. The study also stated, “A clear majority of respondents are concerned about sharing their location without consent (84%), having personal information or identity stolen (84%), and suffering loss of privacy (83%).”

Who Really Knows Where You Are?

Foursquare does have a privacy policy and the default setting is to share everything with your friends and third-party companies that partner with Foursquare. If you check out our blog, “In Plain English: The ‘Who, What, When, Where, Why’ on Foursquare’s Privacy Policy,” you can find the detailed specifics about how your data is being shared and with whom. There are options to share less. If you check-in “off the grid,” as Foursquare calls it, your location will remain secure.

One major concern that is that other users, whether you know them or not, will know if you are in the same venue. This means that if you check-in to a restaurant, anyone else who check-ins there will automatically be told you are there as well. One may also opt out of this default by going to User Settings.

So What If People Know Where You Are?

During the summer of 2010, many news stories were published about the dangers of LBS and the implications on loss of security. According to this Daily Beast story, a woman checked-in somewhere and quickly received a phone call at the establishment. It was from a man who found out her location using pleaserobme.com, a site that hopes to grow awareness about the dangers of oversharing. He harassed her over the phone and she quickly learned her lesson; checking-in might not be the smartest idea in regards to your security.

If you are at a nightclub, you are not home. If you are on vacation in another city, you are not home for an extended period of time. If you put this information out into cyberspace, it becomes an invitation for anyone who comes across this data to not only invade your privacy, but do worse. You could be stalked, robbed or attacked because your viral data makes it easy to find you.

To illustrate an extreme case, a recent article from the UK’s Daily Mail stated that the British Army chiefs have warned soldiers against specifically using Facebook Places. A pamphlet handed out to soldiers suggests that the application “‘may inadvertently compromise the locality of a military user.” The booklet continues, “Personnel are generally unaware of the vulnerabilities associated with openly providing a vast amount of personal information on the internet.”

If You Must Check-In, Protect Yourself

So whether you are a traveling businessman, a young woman going for dinner at her favorite local restaurant or a member of the armed forces, LBS check-ins can be dangerous and severely hinder your security and privacy on and off the Internet!

After Microsoft conducted the survey, it also published a blog with some helpful tips to limit risk if and when you decide you do want to share your location:

  • Pay close attention to the location privacy settings on phones, social networking sites and online applications.
  • Don’t ‘check in’ on location-based social networking sites from home, and don’t include GPS coordinates in tweets, blogs or social networking accounts.
  • Limit who you add to your social network location services, and do not make your location data publicly available or searchable.
  • Don’t geotag photos of your house or your children. In fact, it’s best to disable geotagging until you specifically need it.
  • Only trusted friends should know your location. If you have contacts you don’t fully know or trust, it’s time to do a purge.

Do you use location-based services? Do you find them to be helpful or you believe they may hurt your privacy and security? Will you think twice before checking-in?

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Jillian Ryan

Jillian Ryan is PRIVATE WiFi’s Director, Brand Communications and Social Strategy. With a passion for writing, the web, and fast-paced information exchanged via social networks, Jillian is also concerned about the ramifications of putting your life details and personal data into cyberspace. Follow her on Twitter: @Writing_Jillian.