Picture this. You are traveling from the east coast to the west coast and have a five-hour layover in Minnesota. You have old friends who live there, but don’t have their phone number and haven’t had time to track them down, so you grab your mobile, login on your location-based social network like Foursquare or Whrrl, and they immediately get notified that you’re in town. Suddenly, you are spending the afternoon catching up with old friends and colleagues instead of sitting at the airport alone. This is one of the benefits of location-based social networking, but what exactly is it and what are the other benefits or disadvantages to this service?
What are Location-Based Social Networks?
Location-based social networks are social networks that use the GPS feature on your phone to pinpoint and broadcast your location to any and all of your network contacts. It is basically a very public way of letting people know where you are at any point during the day as you travel around your neighborhood, city or the country. Location-based social networking was started by two NYU students in 2000 with a service called Dodgeball. This service used text message to automatically share their location with friends. Dodgeball was eventually sold to Google and went on to start Foursquare in 2009. Today, there are social networks based entirely off of location-based sharing such as Whrrl and Foursquare, but other social networks, such as Facebook have implemented similar features which allow users to “check-in” and broadcast their current location to the online world.
Foursquare and Whrrl:
Foursquare and Whrrl are both location based social networks, but function a little differently. Foursquare is geared more towards customers and company interaction. You can add a “tip” to your location which allows you to leave and read review or recommendations with other Foursquare users. You can check in to see what appetizers to order, where the best customer service is, or which hairstylist to ask for at a specific salon. If you check in enough, you can earn “Mayor” status of a specific place, and you accumulate points for how often you check in. Whrrl is also a location-based network, but it is closer to an online diary where you can tell the story of your journey through pictures and captions to tell the story of where you are and what you’re doing. Both Foursquare and Whrrl let you adjust your settings to control the amount of notifications you get and how public you information is.
What are the Location-Based Consequences?
Whether you choose to announce a family vacation or your dinner plans, sharing location is basically handing your house keys over to a perfect stranger. According to a recent online survey, 78 percent of burglars use Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare to spot potential property targets. You also may be setting yourself up to run into the exact person you’d rather not see. The good news is that it seems that location-based networking is geared more towards adults as 58% of teenagers say they “do not see the point” of sharing geographic information. However, as retailers and marketers use this service to their advantage, teens may be more willing to share their location for a discount or promo. For example, late last year a social media company in China partnered with Starbucks, offering users a virtual Starbucks users a free upgrade to a larger cup size if they “checked-in” at a Starbucks store in the designated provinces. With the ease of technology and the promised reward, users who may not have typically used the “check-in” option on Facebook now have an incentive to do so.
Better Safe than Sorry.
Perhaps many of us can get away with publicly checking in for years without any consequences. We can snag Starbucks discounts, become the Mayor of our local boutique and leave a path of virtual breadcrumbs for others to follow our life, but what is the potential cost of doing so? Do the benefits really outweigh the immeasurable cost?
The danger with teenagers is they don’t know what they don’t know; they can’t see the danger around the corner a few blocks ahead. The best thing we can do as parents is to educate them about the risks associated with these location-based searches and help them understand the consequences of allowing the entire world to know where they are, and in turn, where they are not.