Brightkite, Foursqaure, and more recently, Facebook Places — these applications are growing in popularity and prestige amidst the social networking explosion.
Posting your location and venue, these location-based apps may seem harmless by themselves — but in reality, they may pose a serious risk to your personal and property security.
Foursquare, a particularly popular application, allows users to check into businesses such as restaurants, cafes, and other service-oriented venues in order to gain rankings and badges. The more frequently a person visits a particular establishment, the more “badges” they receive, and the person who checks into a location the most can be named “mayor” of that location.
With Foursquare, information about your location is posted online for all to see — in fact, this seems to be the point of the application. Many fail to see the problems involved with this, namely, that if your location is posted to the Internet, everyone knows when you’re not home … and could break in to take your possessions while you’re out! You may make the argument that only the people on your friend list can see your status updates, but as Twitter and Facebook become more prolific, can you say you know all your Twitter contacts and Facebook friends well enough to know their motives and trust their friendship? If you check into a restaurant in, say, Toronto, and your home is in Vancouver, any one of your “friends” knows they have plenty of time to break into your home while you’re on the other side of the country. And if you haven’t updated your privacy settings, the scope of people who have access to your location is even larger — and so is the risk.
The danger isn’t limited only to these applications. In reality, any post made to Facebook or Twitter admitting a vacation puts your personal property at risk. What’s more, with the frequency of transmitted information to the Web these days, almost anyone can find you no matter where you are. This may be great when it comes to friends and family, but unfortunately, it means that people you wish wouldn’t find you can track you down as well (think jealous exes or that boss you’re avoiding).
Another concern is that of identity theft. In his Identity Theft Toolkit, author John Lenardon discusses the lengths some people will go to in order to extract personal information from you over the Internet. In an age where almost nothing is withheld from social media, being conscious about how you use applications like Foursquare may also help to protect yourself from identity theft. You never know what information may be useful to thieves.
When it comes to applications like Foursquare, as with all social networking, care is key. Keep an eye on what you are posting, and always ensure you’re aware of the possible implications of sharing that information on the Internet.
The author, John Lenardon, is president of Data Cyber Labs, a company specialized in computer crime investigations and training. He has been consulting corporations and government departments worldwide for over 20 years.
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