More than a few people seem to be intimidated by the rise of location-based social networks and consider it as the clearest example of how social networks have gone a step too far in a way that violates the privacy of individuals and subjects their safety to risk. I am not one of these people and I think that these new location-based services could add a great value to our online social life.
A lot of social networks are adding location aspects to their services: Twitter has allowed the capability to geo-tag each tweet so that you can link the tweet to the physical location from which the update was made, Facebook has also recently introduced a “Places” feature that allows its users to ‘Check-in’ at known venus to inform their friends of their whereabouts. Foursquare and Gowalla are some of the few services that focus exclusively on providing location-based services to allow users to share their location with their friends.
The idea behind these services is to provide users with an easy method for sharing their location with their friends so that they can easily get together when they know where their friends are physically located at any time and get notified when they enter a location at which one of their friends have already been.
Opponents of location-based services think that the risks of sharing their location is a risky action that should not be done and it could lead to putting their property in danger as burglars can use the service to know that they are not at home.
I personally think that these risks are exaggerated and unrealistic. Location-based services available at the moment do not provide real-time information about the movement of its users- it merely provides a manual method for its users to ‘check-in’ at a location when they want to share that piece of info with their friends and makes it easy to post notes to other friends in relation to actual physical locations. The mere idea of telling your friends about your location is not new at all as users of Twitter regularly update their followers about their location by tweeting that they are at a specific place and the same goes for Facebook. It should be noted that location-based services are also identical to other social networks as they provide their users with various privacy settings that allow them to have their location updates as private or public.
I do not think that the safety risk argument against location-based services is a serious argument because the fact that you are not at your home does not necessarily mean that nobody else is there. Tweeting that you are not at home would also not on its own inform a burglar about the location of your house except if you posted its location as a public venue which you should not do by any chance.
Location-based services do provide a new way to socialise and interact with your friends and can be great fun to use, but even though I am a regular user of Foursquare, I still do not make updates about every single location I go to. The emails you write, the blog posts you make, and updates published on Facebook could cause you harm and embarrassment if you do not use common sense when using their services, location-based services are not different than any of these.