Location apps: Where’s the security?

Marketplace Staff Mar 3, 2010
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Location apps: Where’s the security?

Marketplace Staff Mar 3, 2010
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Steve Chiotakis: The next smash in social media, smash hit? Mobile applications that don’t ask about what you’re doing, but where you are. Users like these apps because they’re fun to use with friends. Businesses like them because they get to know their customers. But all this information sharing comes with a price. From Birmingham, Ala., Gigi Douban reports.


Gigi Douban: There’s a saying: “Misery loves company.” And being stranded at the airport for eight hours ranks pretty high on the misery scale.

But Jim Pattillo, a Birmingham lawyer who recently was stuck at O’Hare, found a way to take the edge off:

Jim Pattillo: Foursquare helped me find not only places to eat, not eat in the airport, but also kind of helped me commiserate with some of the other stranded travelers.

Foursquare is one of a growing number of location-sharing applications. Users can broadcast their whereabouts through check-ins on their mobile devices and connect with others nearby.

But there’s a risk. Pattillo has checked in from home before, blasting out his home address — with a map — on Twitter. Afterwards, he says, he realized that probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do.

Pattillo: If I later broadcast I’m in Chicago for the weekend, there’s my home unoccupied. Those are some legitimate security concerns.

And that’s exactly the point behind the new Web site PleaseRobMe.com. The site compiles a list of Foursquare users who have recently checked in somewhere. Above the listings, it says “recent empty homes.”

The creators of Please Rob Me say they don’t encourage burglary. In a written statement they say, quote, “It was all about engagement with the privacy issue.”

In spite of the privacy concerns, it seems everyone wants a slice of the location-sharing pie. Take Yelp, for example. Stephanie Ichinose is communications director for the company:

Stephanie Ichinose: Yelp is really all about connecting consumers with local businesses.

Since 2005, Yelp users have posted reviews of everything from restaurants to gas stations. But recently, the company added a check-in feature.

Ichinose says that while the check-ins allow you to find out where your friends are or broadcast your own whereabouts, they’re more about credibility. In other words, a reviewer who has checked in to the same place 15 times probably knows his stuff.

Ichinose: And so it just allows for, you know, another layer of trust.

And trust is something that many users of these mobile applications seem to have in abundance.

In Birmingham, I’m Gigi Douban for Marketplace.

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