- Am I using location-based social networks like Foursquare or Facebook Places?
- What happens when I share my current physical location online?
- How does my smartphone know what places I’ve been to?
Consider these questions as you review the examples below. Try the quiz from the left menu: What Have You Learned? after you’ve spent some time with this section.
Check out this video to learn how a smartphone finds and stores location data:
Video courtesy of AP
Consider the story of Malte Spitz, a politician in Germany who sued his telecom company to turn over the location data they kept about his movements. Spitz gave the data to the ZEIT Online, who matched it with his publicly available twitter feed and other web data, then graphed it onto a map. You can watch his movements over time here.
How does it work?
Location-based social networks use a smartphone’s global positioning system (or GPS) along with WiFi hotspots to determine a user’s whereabouts. Popular location-based social networks include Foursquare, Google’s Schemer and Facebook Places. These sites recognize a user’s location data and allow them to “check-in” to locations from a user-generated database of shops, restaurants, parks, libraries and more.
Most location-based apps and social networks encourage participation by adding games to the mix. For example, Foursquare users earn points and badges by checking-in at different locations. When a user collects the most check-ins of everyone at a particular spot they are crowned “mayor”. Mayoral perks can go beyond mere bragging rights. Some shops or restaurants offer discounts and other incentives to anyone who can prove their mayoral status.
Why location-based social networks?
For merchants, location-based social networks are a free set of tools to attract new business by offering serious discounts or special perks to customers. In exchange, stores that support location-based social networks gain a wealth of data about the people who visit them – their most recent and most frequent visitors, the percentage of their customers who are male or female, what time of day people check-in, and more.
While there are real privacy concerns, individual users do gain valuable information as well. Users can read about other people who have visited a particular spot in the past or are there right now. Nearby friends are visible online, as are timely recommendations, helpful ratings, even a glimpse of the online presence of the stranger sitting next to you. It’s all there on location-based networks.
Depending on your sensibilities, and perhaps your current location, location-based social networks are fun, social, and useful or perhaps intrusive, anti-social, maybe even a tad creepy.
- Who sees my location?
Think about the places you spend time at. The library, school, your home, shops and restaurants, the local watering hole.
By sharing your location, people and businesses can tell a lot about you. Your interests, habits, and tastes as well as your general whereabouts could all potentially be discerned from the time-stamped, global coordinates that you broadcast across your social networks.
Perhaps equally as important, sharing your current location in real-time also broadcasts where you are not – like home, or at work.
- Privacy Settings
- Consider your privacy settings. Most location-based social networks allow you to tailor your settings so you can control who sees your location – just your friends, businesses too, or perhaps anyone.
- Remember also that if your location-based social network is linked to a Twitter or Facebook profile, your location is shared on these networks too.