In this age of interconnectedness, those of us using social networks – over 850 million of us are active on Facebook and Twitter alone – are becoming increasingly comfortable sharing everything from political opinions and life milestones to how awesome Zumba class was and what we ate for lunch today. When you consider that the current generation is growing up with cell phones and social media, it’s no surprise that the propensity to share is even greater in our teenagers. While that status update about the GLEE season finale is fairly innocuous, at what point does information sharing pass from “socialization” to security risk?
There are many privacy risks associated with social networking (profile security settings, sharing contact info, being tagged in inappropriate content, etc), but today we would like to draw your attention to one risk in particular: location sharing. While many users know not to post sensitive information like a phone number on their profiles or in status updates, many more wouldn’t think twice about disclosing their locations. In fact networks like Foursquare, the mobile-based “check-in” program, even encourage it!
Let’s look at a few facts:
- In 2010, location-based social network Foursquare grew by 3400% in terms of “check-ins” and has now reached over 7 million users.
- Teenage smartphone use has tripled since 2009. According to the research firm ComScore, in April of 2009 1.7 million teens had smartphones. Two years later in April of 2011, this number totaled 4.8 million. Many smartphone apps, including networks like Foursquare, have access to the user’s location and share it with other users or businesses.
- According to Facebook’s latest round of updates, users can add a location to any post – regardless of whether they’re using a computer or a mobile device.
What does all this mean from a security standpoint?
One of the main concerns associated with location sharing is the ability for non-friends to know where you were, where you are, and where you plan to be. If someone intended to cause harm to your child, it is easy to see how this geographic information could be dangerous. PleaseRobMe.com sheds more light on how status updates like “Vacationing in Florida for two weeks!” could be seen as a security risk. When your check-in’s and updates say where you are, they are also communicating where you aren’t. PleaseRobMe raises “awareness of over-sharing” by listing check-ins and Tweets for “all the empty homes out there.” Though the site is more of a stunt than anything else, its point rings true.
So, should you and your teen stop using Foursquare? Not necessarily. As with social networking in general, as long as you educate yourself and take the necessary precautions, there is no need to miss out on the fun. When you talk with your family about social networking security issues, make sure to include a lesson on location. Perhaps you will decide to add location information to the “do not post” list along with phone numbers, addresses, and the like. Specific location services like Foursquare can be great for meeting up with friends, getting groups of people together, and earning discounts at your favorite businesses. However, use extra caution when signing up for such a service, and consider restricting their use to older teens only.
Additional information on Foursquare privacy:
- Foursquare Privacy 101: https://foursquare.com/privacy/
- Foursquare & other networks FAQ: http://support.foursquare.com/forums/191152-privacy
- Foursquare Privacy Loopholes: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/feeds/foursquares-privacy-loopholes/2607