Friday, October 7, 2011

Bill Collectors and Repo Men Rejoice

I often get into debates about my addiction to checking in with Foursquare. Foursquare is yet another social network designed to let you explore an area, wherever you happen to be. Using your smart phone, you select the specific business, location or event you are attending. You can see what's in the area, take advantage of what others have said about it, find nearby deals or add your own comments. Foursquare lists local places based on the GPS in your phone. You connect with your friends and can see where they are.

I have checked in over 1,000 times. You will almost always know where I am if  you either 1) friend me on Foursquare, 2) friend me on Facebook or 3) follow me on my personal Twitter account. My account is configured so every check in is "tweeted" and "posted" to my "wall" automatically.

So, the question is whether you would find it a pleasant experience or just creepy if someone you know observes your location on a social network, happens to be nearby and decides to drop in and visit with you. This has happened to me in the past and never caused me any concern. Frankly, if I don't want anyone to know where I am I simply do not check in. But more than once, I have been pleasantly surprised by the unexpected opportunity to spend time with a friend or family member.

SONAR is another tool you can load on your smart phone. It is designed to collect information from a variety of sources and, again based on GPS, determine who among your "virtual" friends is physically nearby. Like Foursquare, two SONAR subscribers in the same location will automatically be visible to each other. But SONAR goes beyond this, aggregating location data from other sources to show you who else you might know that it nearby.

In my view, this is where it might cross the line. It's less fun and convenient and little more like Skynet. Scanning around various social networks, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, it assembles a kind of who knows who. So any two SONAR users, even if they don't know each other, will be alerted and have an opportunity to meet if they come into the same location.

I suppose if you are a wall flower and wind up at a social gathering with Mary who happens to be "friends" with  Mike who follows you on Twitter, and Mary is a hot prospect, SONAR alerting you would be a good thing. On the other hand, Mary might not thing when she "checked in" that anyone outside of her circles would be made aware of her presence.

At the end of the day, no one can know more than you yourself reveal. But be aware that information you volunteer through any of these social networks may just find its way far beyond the borders you think exist and may be put to other uses that  you did not anticipate. The best way to keep something a secret is to not tell anyone. If you don't advertise your location, you can hide in plain sight and no one will even know you are there.

So even if you friend or follow me, perhaps you won't always know where I am, after all.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC