Location-Based Services: 5 Myths Debunked

With location-based services such as Facebook's Places come many misconceptions about risks. Here's a look at what's true and false regarding location-based technology.

Tue, August 24, 2010

CIO — First there was location-based social network Foursquare. Then Gowalla and other sites followed suit and launched. And now with news that Facebook is slowly rolling out its own location-based technology, you can expect to hear a lot—both true and false—about what these services really are.

Geolocation is still new to the social networking arena—Foursquare, for example, launched just last year. And as with any emerging technology (Twitter, anyone?) questions abound. How secure is it? What about my privacy? And, "Um, I don't get the point of this."

To separate fact from fiction, consider these five statements—and learn the real truth—about location-based services.

1. I'll get stalked.

As with any technology, there are security risks. However, location-based services pose a unique risk, as you're publishing your exact current location. That's why understanding and utilizing the privacy controls that the specific technology offers is of utmost importance.

A common misconception is that by using geolocation services such as Foursquare, your every movement will be tracked, recorded and publicized.

That's not necessarily true. Foursquare, for example, only shares your location when you proactively decide to check in to tell the service you're at a particular place. Even when you check in, you have the choice each time to share your particular location or to check in "off the grid."

[Experts Give Preliminary OK to Facebook Places]

Facebook, too, learned from its prior security mishaps. By default, Facebook's new Places check-ins are visible to friends only. This particular setting can be customized to allow broader sharing or to restrict it to a group of people. Similarly, if a friend tags you with a location, you have the option to remove the tag (as you may with Photos.) Or you can opt out entirely from being tagged in Places.

Bottom line: As with any online technology, it's up to you to understand and use the privacy policies to stay safe. Each location-based service is different, so it's important to know how each service works before you commit.

2. There's no reason for me to use a location-based service.

Broadcasting your location to your friends may seem inane, but then again so did broadcasting 140-character messages when Twitter first launched.

Location-based services offer more than just a way to say where you are. Discounts and free sample offers are popular. Clothing retailer Gap (GPS), for example, offered Foursquare users 25 percent off if they checked into the store's location. Ann Taylor offered a similar deal, too: 25 percent off for Foursquare mayors (users with the most check-ins to that venue in the last 60 days) and 15 percent off to each customer after their fifth check-in.

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