Burglars love Foursquare (really… they do)

Location based services (LBS) is seemingly the new trend for marketing and advertising. I’ve been playing on/off with Foursquare for a little while but it didn’t take me long to realize the real privacy and security concerns that I have with the service. And just like big brother of social networking, Facebook, recently saw a slew of negative press around its own privacy issues, Foursquare and other LBS services may get slammed eventually as well.

Sharing TOO much

The main issue that I hate about Foursquare? By checking into venues, they know my habits. They know when I go out, they know where I go, and can fairly easily extrapolate how long I am there (assuming I check-in everywhere I go). The last time I checked, I didn’t need someone looking over my shoulder and being able to see everything I do in real life. Granted, I believe that only fellow Foursquare friends can see your actual movement activity, I doubt many users think about this privacy concern or that Foursquare makes it blatantly clear that your movements are publicly displayed to your friends (and that you need to be careful who you add as friends on their service). In fact if you keep reading, you’ll see that many Foursquare users are not smart at all.

Are you prepared to get robbed?

Earlier in the year, I came across a website called Please Rob Me whose sole purpose was to address this privacy issue with Foursquare and Twitter. The website used Twitter’s public search stream and scanned it for location based tweets. Since these tweets are public to all, in theory a burglar could easily track your habits and rob your home. TechCrunch reported that you can also use the filter on top of the site to show when specific people aren’t home (by their Twitter name), or sort by location.

Please Rob Me says,

The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you’re definitely not… home.

Not so smart Foursquare users

You know what’s even more sad about all this confusion? When people add their home to Foursquare so they can get more checkin’s. There are a ton of examples of this going on within Foursquare and I think this is an area that Foursquare really should think about moderating somehow. Their service should be for real business venues, not private residences. Even more frightening, in some cases, many people may not even know their home address is listed on Foursquare publicly because a friend may have added it.

Think before you share

The bottom line is that you should all be aware of what exactly is going on with your information behind the scenes with you are using location based services. Personally, I only give up my location only if I have to. For example, I have a music app that I use for streaming radio on my iPhone and it for some reason asks me for my location upon starting up but it has nothing to do with the music. I think their sole purpose of collecting my location data is just for marketing purposes but in any case, I don’t want to give up my location to just listen to music. On the other hand, I am a little more comfortable to give up my location to Google Maps to get information about what’s around me because I trust Google’s policies a lot more than new startups such as Foursquare (although this may be debatable as well).