Foursquare: Privacy vs. Social Sharing

I’ve never been totally sure about Foursquare and other location based social services. Sure, they can be great for businesses: Drive traffic to your store! See who’s shopping at your store! Offer discounts and deals! But besides those deals and discounts, what’s the benefit to the end user? Many will say  checking in at a location allows you to see where your friends are and meet up spontaneously. This may be true, but who else can see where you’re checking in?

From Portland, Oregon to London, England, reports of Foursquare stalking cases are beginning to roll in. The concerns raised by privacy advocates are twofold: By broadcasting your location, it becomes easier for people to find where you are at any given time–like home alone or in an isolated location. Conversely, just by checking in somewhere, you’re telling the world you aren’t at home, giving them the opportunity to rob your property.

These incidents raise the question: are location-based services safe? What is the end user’s responsibility in protecting their location, and what burden do the social media companies bear? I recently posed this question to Chris Banks, a local Foursquare advocate. He replied “They should have the options there in the open for people to choose how much they’re sharing. Then it’s up to the user.”

While the bulk of the responsibility is on the user, it still seems that the location-based services should offer at least some information on using their networks safely. Currently, the Foursquare site offers quite a bit of information on privacy, including how to make sure only your friends can see your check ins, it mostly ignores the question of when it may not be safe to post your location.

For me, the risks of using Foursquare outweigh the benefits. What do you think? Why do you Foursquare? Do you have any privacy concerns?

Any questions? Roundpeg, an Indianapolis Social Media firm, can help.