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As individuals become more and more accustomed to sharing personal information with social networking sites, it’s easy to see how this free and easy exchange of information can be abused.
FourSquare, though entertaining and potentially useful for tips on the places around you and figuring out where your online friends are, does raise some security issues.
I’ve been guilty of accepting friend requests from strangers without thinking about the implications of who I’m letting into my online social circle. As I check into places using FourSquare, a pattern of who I am, my tastes and most importantly, my day to day movements from one place to the next begin to draw a map of me for anyone who takes the time to look.
Check out my Twitter stream, find me on Facebook or Google and the picture becomes even more complete. Recently, Guardian journalist Leo Hickman put this to the test in his piece, “How I became a FourSquare cyberstaker.”
There are settings within these applications that allow you to be more guarded about what gets pushed out, but the problem is that these games by their very nature reward you for sharing your experiences and the frequency of your check-ins.
Businesses are also rewarding users for repeat behaviour. The more you check into a place, the more likely you are to become Mayor of that location. In many cases, this title brings with a real-life reward; become the Mayor of Domino’s and get a free pizza once a week.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with rewarding loyal customers, I’m all for it. (Thanks Domino’s) but I feel that more needs to be done to make people aware of the potential pit-falls of putting one’s life out there. I also acknowledge that much of this is common sense, but to individuals that are new to this, it may not be so obvious.
Only by taking the time and effort to search through your settings can you make changes to protect yourself.
Another thing to bear in mind is that like so many other social games, there is a competitive aspect which encourages people to acquire as many badges as possible.
My point here is not that these applications are evil, but that in an ideal world, more should be done by their creators to encourage security and privacy. By taking a “you need to opt-in” rather than, “figure out how to opt-out” approach, people will be more aware of what their options are.
The fact is that, although social media and social gaming are not particularly new, technology is evolving at a crazy rate and we’re struggling to catch up. For my part, I agree that social gaming and social networking can be great fun and connect you with new people and places in a way that wasn’t possible not too long ago.
The danger is that as well as getting excited about the possibilities in information sharing, we may forget to consider the implications of what we’re telling the world about ourselves.
So before you decide to star in your own reality TV show with FourSquare, Facebook, Twitter, Google and all of the other social media outlets available as the broadcast mechanisms, take a step back and think about what the audience may be up to.