I was in college at the University of South Florida when at another school, a long way away, Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook. It was this cool new thing that spread among college kids like wildfire. In fact, at the time, only college students could join. They verified you were real through your school email address. Now, Facebook is closing in on 600 million members and social networking and media is a full-fledged part of our daily lives for those that are connected.

places Since many of our smart phones have GPS, a fledgling trend is geo-tagging. Essentially, your status update or tweet can be tagged with the coordinates where you made the post. The implications for marketing have been huge. And looking for a way to make some money at this has been a cropping up of location based social networks, where users check in, telling us what they’re doing and where they’re doing it at. The biggest of these to come up have been Foursquare, Gowalla, and seeing the potential of it Facebook has gotten in the game with their Places product.

The implications and even fun that I, as a small business owner, can haveimages with this type of product are huge. I can offer rewards for how many times someone checks in or when someone becomes "mayor." etc. The more people that see you check in at Sidekicks in Facebook places, the more people will be exposed to our name and brand, possibly resulting in more students. It’s also a great way to let people know what restaurants you like (or what restaurants other people like) and more.

However, just because a technology has very cool implications for sharing information and marketing, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be good for us in the long term or even the short term. Using geo-locating social network functions represents a threat to our personal security, by letting people know:

1) Where we are
2) where we’re not
3) Who we’re with and
4) Who we’re not with

Privacy, well not really.

Most online products come with a built in common sense style of privacy settings so that you can control who sees what of your information.  Even Facebook, with it’s corporate leaderships’ apparent disdain for our foursquare conventional beliefs in a right to privacy and ownership over how our personal information gets distributed has begrudgingly beefed up its support for easy to use privacy settings so you can decide how and who views your information.

Unfortunately, this gives many a false sense of security.  Once your keystrokes leave your computer it’s a ticking clock before someone who shouldn’t see your information sees it.  This is because even the most secure data frameworks come with holes, places where despite their best efforts, the programmers overlooked some sort of flaw in the code that could be exploited. 

Your social networking profile, no matter how high your privacy settings, is essentially like a billboard on Times Square and that anything you post is like displaying it for everyone to see.  Angel Rojas, President and CEO of DataCorps Technology Solutions who frequently consults with his clients on keeping their networks secure and their data private also points out that it’s often lower tech methods of accessing your information that prove most effective:

If someone has compromised a friends’ computer, they can use it to attack, physically, another person.

Back in May, 2009 the well intentioned Twitter was the victim of yet another security breach – this time through a hacked employee email account.  Among the unauthorized accounts hacked were some celebrities and even President Barack Obama.  People are actively out there trying to usurp your information, for fun or for gain.

This past October, Facebook was the unwitting accomplice in dumping thousands of user I.D’s and other personal information into the internet because several popular applications that people use on their account were providing the information to outside websites.  Either through accident or intention, your private information isn’t really private.  So turning on your geo-tagging so that only the people you’re friends with can see isn’t going to guarantee that someone who shouldn’t know where you are in fact doesn’t know where you are.

1. Checking In let’s people know where you are:

I know, the whole point of checking in on Facebook Places, Foursquare, or Gowalla is to let people know where you are and what you’re doing right?  For most of the people that see where you “check in” it’ll be harmless because they don’t intend you any harm.  However, if someone knows exactly where you are when you’re out and about, or if you’ve checked in from your home or a close relatives you’ve given someone that could very well intend you harm you exact location and the ability to know with a reasonable guess how long you’re going to be there.  You see, someone that’s intent on abduction or assault needs two things in order to carry out their goal.  The first is isolation and the second is uninterrupted time.  If you’ve given them your location then you’ve given them a great deal they need in order to formulate a plan for how to go about securing those two needed items.  In the case of women, most sexual assault is carried out by someone they know, so it’s no wonder that not giving your exact location to the whole world would be a good safety measure.

2. Checking In let’s people know where you aren’t:

If I were to check in from my favorite restaurant, then everyone knows that I’m there.  They would also be able to deduce that if you are where you checked in, then you aren’t somewhere else that they could then be free to break into with the purpose of stealing something valuable, conducting corporate espionage, or even find a nice spot to lie in wait until you return at which point they’ll have the upper hand.  I’m mostly referring to your home or your place of work, because in most other places it doesn’t matter if you’re there or not.  Those would also make the best targets as that’s likely where you have property or information of value.  It’s basically saying, “come rob my home.”  As Angel Rojas points out, that sometimes it doesn’t even have to be a location specific post that betrays you:

Posting vacation pictures while on vacation can alert someone that the house is vacant.

3.  Checking In let’s others know who we’re with:

For most middle aged adults, the prospect of letting others know who we’re with seems harmless enough.  However, based on the location information, it can tell other’s if our location is crowded or is it’s isolated.  Again, we’ve already discussed that someone with the intent to do harm needs isolation, which in many cases involves moving to a secondary location.  Well, the easiest way to move someone to a secondary location is to get them from the first location without being seen.  The more isolated the first location, the easier it is for your assailant to get you.

4. Checking In let’s others know who you’re not with:

The most dangerous aspect, in my opinion, is husbands/wives indicating they’re out of town, leaving the other vulnerable.   This can be done via statuses/messages.  The more check ins, the easier it is to make that inference, especially if both partners use the service (which is likely, my wife and I both use Twitter AND Facebook). 

It took my wife to point this out to me.

This is the part where I really came to the decision that I wasn’t going to use Foursquare or Facebook Places (I really know nothing about Gowalla except that it may in fact be easier to monetize with it).  Even someone like myself, who’s always security minded with our stuff as well as keeping my family safe made the mistake of not thinking about the fourth point above when I tweeted that I was on a trip.  Within moments my wife and my best friend pointed out to me that I had just announced to the world that my wife was home, alone, with our then 5 month old twin sons.

Now, my wife is someone who is very capable of taking care of herself against multiple opponents at once, however a great self-protection plan is one that is mostly preventive.

In the end, you and I need to take a common sense approach to our safety when using these new technologies, because they can present serious risks to our person and out property and to those around us.  Maybe the whole world doesn’t need to know everything about every aspect of your life and where you’re doing it. 

At Sidekicks Family Martial Arts Centers, here in the FishHawk Ranch area, we take a common sense approach to self-defense.  An approach that focuses on not just what to do if you’re in a physical encounter and need to defend yourself, but also thinking ahead and taking steps so that we never end up in a situation like that.  If you’re interested in learning more about our fitness and self-defense program for children, youth, and adults I suggest you take up our free trial program.  That way you can check us out risk free and see if we’re the place for you.  You can learn more by calling (813) 661-2224 or fill out the form in the sidebar to the right.

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