Location Based Safety Guide

Privacy is a freedom we give ourselves.

It is spring break. Facebook is full of my friends saying where they are (with their whole families), and it looks like most of them are posting publicly. Someone could easily look at the Camilla, Georgia and publicly see who is out of town.

Location Based Girl-Finding App Uses FourSquare and Facebook

Girls Around Me, the app that used Foursquare and Facebook location data to reveal the whereabouts of girls located around a person, had people upset. It is now pulled from the iTunes store after losing Foursquare API access. The Russian-based developer told the Wall Street Journal that:

"Girls Around Me does not provide any data that is unavailable to the user when he uses his or her social network account, nor does it reveal any data that users did not share with others."

Is Sharing Your Location a Big Deal?

The fact is that girls and adults ARE sharing this information. Websites like pleaserobme have tried to point this out for some time. (Amid criticism pleaserobme creates awareness about whose homes are abandoned via the location-enabled Tweets by owners disclosing their absence.) 

A Wired News  reporter determined where a woman lived by watching her take pictures in the park. By noticing the kind of camera, he used the location feature in Flickr and the camera model to find her and locate her apartment through other photos on the account.

Google is now forcing people to use real names, which makes stalking even easier. This person makes an excellent point about Google forcing her to use her real name or suspend her services by April 4. Companies like Google want to make sure we're a real person, but we live in a world where 1 in 20 women will be stalked in their lifetime. I am one of those women. This is important to me that other women not live in that kind of fear.

When I see people posting things like:

"We're so happy to be gone to the beach for a week" along with the location -or-"The mountains are so pretty! Our dogs are at the vet.  Ah, a week alone in the mountains!  I don't want to go home." 

I cringe when I see these are PUBLIC updates on Facebook that anyone can see.

When you share your updates, perhaps you should create a list of close friends you trust to share your location based updates.

Tip #1: Create an intimate list if you want to share location based information.

I would suggest that you create a list of close friends (who genuinely are close) or just family members to share these geotagged updates. 

Tip #2: Look closely at how you link other platforms.

Privacy settings do not transfer between platforms. The updates you send from Foursquare, Twitter, TripIt, or Yelp to Facebook may override your Facebook privacy settings. I admit that I don't honestly have a firm handle on this one yet. For example, I've decided to use Foursquare when I'm traveling to check into airports and meet up with friends or to get deals at certain locations. Meanwhile, I'm researching my privacy settings for each as part of writing this post.

Tip #3: NEVER check into or create a location for your home, hotel room, or other private locations.

You are giving the latitude and longitude of your home - where you live - to anyone who is your friend.

Tip #4: Turn off geotagging on photos (and check your child's cell phone) unless you intentionally decide geotagging is for you.

I don't want my photos geotagged. A geotag is a tiny piece of data with the latitude and longitude of the photo's location. Many parents don't realize that their children's cell phones often default to turn on geotagging. When a child takes a photo with a geotag and shares it anywhere electronically, they have just compromised their own safety.

By 2012 (that is now), all cell phones in the US are required to have geolocation for E911 purposes. Because most cell phones have cameras, the geotagging is available. I think that the use of geotagging on children's photos should be disclosed to parents. As of right now, it is likely that most parents don't know if it is on or off.

Remember that apps like Google Picasa can add Geotags to a photo AFTER it is taken (by adding the photos on a Google map, for example.) Educating everyone about geotagging is paramount for this reason.

Tip #5: Carefully vet your friends

If you don't know someone, YOU DON'T KNOW THEM. Why would you friend them? I stopped friending people on Facebook I don't know and created a fan page instead. This also means I need to go back and unfriend those I don't know. This is such a hard one because on Foursquare it is tempting to friend the "friends of friends."

Don't trust your friends to vet your friends.

I had 2 sets of students do an experiment last year for their Digiteen project. They created two fake profiles. One was for a "cute' girl with a real picture, and another was for a random young man with an avatar. The girl had over 500 friends after 3 weeks. Although students admitted that they didn't know the girl that she didn't go to our small school, they said, "so many people had friended her, I just thought it was OK." Only one student "called her out" and we quickly reached out to him to make him a confederate. It was part of an awareness of "watch who you friend" that the students wanted to do. All an evildoer has to do is have a picture of a cute young lady and enlist a few confederates.

Go back through your friends and check what you are doing. Separate them into lists if necessary. Create a "not sure" list and give them limited viewing rights to your Facebook.

Tip #6: Carefully look at your settings

Check your privacy settings everywhere you share. Some of the most popular geolocating services and information on their privacy settings are:

Tip #7: Be careful about revealing patterns in your behavior

When strangers know your routine, you create a risk for yourself. Do you always get coffee at a certain place and jog in another place every day? (Location enabled sites like Map My Run let you share the map of where you like to run. This may also be something  you don't want to share publicly.)

Tip #8: Don't Geotag photos including children

I think it is a  poor idea to geotag photos including children. It is our job to protect them.

What does this mean for photos taken at events that your school hosts? Has this been disclosed to parents? How can we educate about this?

Tip #9: Educate

Educate those you know about location based safety.

 You and your children are only as safe as  the "weakest link." When we go on our family trips, I purposely don't mention it on any of the social media websites where I share. I only upload photos after the trip.

This should be part of the digital citizenship education programs (we talk about it in Digiteen) that all of you should be doing in your schools. Talk to parents about it when you start the year. 

Fear isn't the answer

I'm not and advocate fear-induced education. We can educate people and advocate for businesses to protect people by promoting awareness. Location based services should always be an opt-in privacy setting (meaning you should have to CHOOSE to enable them) and companies who are going to work in location based services MUST be vigilant about removing stalker-ish apps like Girls Around Me.

With face recognition as it is, I think that most photography services could detect a child is in a photo and should set privacy to a level that doesn't allow public sharing. (Increasingly accurate facial recognition adds a whole new element of concern to the use of location based services.)

We need to be talking about location based apps now and using some common sense before the inevitable things begin happening. I could hide from my stalker in college. In today's world, I could have given up so much privacy before he fixated on me that I literally wouldn't have a place to hide.

Privacy is a freedom we give ourselves.

As always, educate yourself. These are my recommendations as to what I'm doing, you are responsible for the safety of you, your children, and your students. Take time to look into this for yourself. Let this guide be the beginning of your education journey.

Photo credit: Big Stock

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