Nov 172010

Geolocation is one of the hottest trends in social networking today. Users enjoy connecting with friends at nearby locations. Businesses are beginning to take note of the opportunity to tie their brick-and-mortar locations to their online marketing.

In addition to the main local social networking applications—Foursquare and GowallaGoogle, Facebook and Twitter have added geolocation features to their services to tap into this trend.

As users provide more information about their location, serious privacy implications are beginning to surface. For instance, a Webroot study released in July 2010 found that more than half of survey respondents who used geolocation services were worried their privacy was at risk.

Privacy Problems

The first wave of criticism about the privacy implications of geolocation social networks followed the launch in February 2010 of Please Rob Me, which combined people’s physical location through geolocation services with data about their residence from other public data.

When people were “checked in” at other places, unscrupulous individuals could find out and take advantage through Please Rob Me, though the site’s founders said they were only trying to demonstrate the problems posed by sharing geolocation data.

In March 2010, the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a lawsuit with the FTC alleging that Google violated people’s privacy by making geolocation data available to the general public in its Google Buzz product.

The geolocation privacy backlash continued with the launch of Facebook Places, which enabled users who had recently checked into a place to see all other users who had been there through the “Here Now” feature.

This launch prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to put out a data sheet on how people could protect their online privacy and voice concerns about the practice of listing physical locations through geolocation services.

Social Networks React

An example of a Facebook Place

To assure users that participating in geolocation social networking was safe and controllable, social networks began to provide additional privacy controls. This was likely in response to the concern and potential litigation regarding privacy and by the spate of violence through Craigslist connections.

Twitter users can select whether to include their whereabouts for each message. Privacy advocates were never as keen to target it for criticism, though

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