square.jpgBy Evelyn Hayman

I don’t particularly care if Bob is at the mall, or Stacy has visited Burger Heaven ten times in the past two weeks, or if Jane has been to three different grocery stores today.

Welcome to the new, annoying world of location-based social networking. Now you can know where your friends are every second of the day whether you want to or not. And if you connect with people at work, your coworkers and boss may also know that you’re sipping on a latte at Starbucks when you should be finishing that overdue report.

Am I square for hating Foursquare?

The updates from my connections came from Foursquare, one of the biggest players in the location-based space, and bombarded me on Facebook to the point where I had to block the updates from showing up. As someone with friends around the country, I could care less when my friend 3,000 miles away is at the mall. What about my friends nearby? Maybe. But do I really want to know where you are and what you’re doing at all times? Isn’t that what Twitter is for anyway? Location-based applications are spreading like wildfire, and while it is fun for some, it might not be for everyone.

Foursquare describes itself as “a location-based mobile platform that makes cities easier to use and more interesting to explore. By ‘checking in’ via a smartphone app or SMS, users share their location with friends while collecting points and virtual badges.” They boast 8 million users around the world with over 2.5 million check-ins per day.

Facebook is jumping on the bandwagon too, with its new “Places” service. Like Foursquare, you can “check-in” at a location and then it sends where you are to Facebook for all your friends to see. But is that even safe? Has my generation just become so used to sharing our lives with the world through Facebook and MySpace that there really is no sense of privacy anymore?

There was just recently an uproar over whether iPhones track the location of the user. People were concerned because apparently this data can be accessed by anyone. Apple has denied these claims, saying that they are just tracking Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers used by the device. But this seems like exactly the same thing to me. The concerning part is that the location file can be uploaded to iTunes when the phone is connected to a computer, and Apple also receives the location information, although it is anonymous. Apple has since released an update that stops the location-tracking.

And I thought I only had to worry about creepy guys in bars tracking me.

Now the whole world wants to know where I am, whether I want them to or not. I don’t mind sharing some things, but I always check my privacy settings. But little is private in cyber space. Now as soon as I walk past a store I might immediately get a coupon sent to my phone. Not sure how I feel about that.

An LA Times article explains that these privacy issues will likely soon need government intervention:

“The challenge for policymakers is figuring out how to give consumers the right degree of control without making it impractical for companies to make innovative uses of personal information — in other words, to balance privacy concerns against the demand for ever-more-functional devices and services.”

And what about privacy from your employer? What if you call in sick because that new movie is coming out and then your boss sees you check-in at the theatre? Or what if you check-in at the local bars on weeknights? This could certainly hurt your relationship with your employer. They could judge you unfairly based on where you check-in, and of course if you are caught in a lie that could definitely make you look bad. Many people have gotten fired over what they post on social media sites, such as the woman who posted on Facebook about how she hated her boss and was subsequently fired.

Besides getting in trouble, there is also the annoyance aspect. Do all your contacts want to know where you are all the time? Probably not. If you use location-based programs like Foursquare too much, people might start disconnecting with you because they get annoyed by your constant updates. That means you lose the connection with someone who might help you in your career.

Lifehacker has some recommendations for using Foursquare effectively and not being annoying. They suggest changing your settings to not post automatically to other social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. This way you can avoid notifying the entire world about your location if you’d rather keep it private.

So then, is sharing caring? Or is it just obnoxious and a little creepy?

(Note about the author. Evelyn Hayman was my intern, but alas her last day was yesterday. She was a great asset to CareerDiva and I hope she will continue to contribute down the line. Let’s all wish her luck on her future endeavors as she pursues her editing career. Check out her awesome Awkward Words Blog.)

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]