How public do we really want to be nowadays?

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Please Rob Me screenshotThere was a little noise made recently about a website called Please Rob Me. It was created to demonstrate the problems with sharing too much information online via location-based social networks like Foursquare and Gowalla.

These services allow you to use smartphones and other mobile devices to “check-in” and collect badges. They also allow you to make recommendations and suggest tips for the destinations that you visit. Some restaurants and attractions have realized that it is a great way to offer discounts or specials to regular loyal customers. New tools are being promised by Foursquare in the near future that will allow interested business owners to learn everything from their busiest time of day among that subset of customers to what happened the last time that someone came in, so I’d say that the rate of adoption may be picking up just enough…

Even if there’s been a steady adoption rate of location-based social networks, I have a feeling that it would take a dedicated thief who knew specific neighborhoods fairly well who was willing to be extremely patient to truly benefit from this information.

There is actually a group of organizations that could benefit from this type of service, though it would help if the information could be translated appropriately – law enforcement agencies.

This is still a leap but it could be a way that pro-active policing and surveillance is made easier in the future. It could be used to determine trends of movement through the city. Considering the type of information that Foursquare is preparing to roll out (and Facebook’s unofficial announcement about their plans), it wouldn’t be a stretch to create a digital map and provide a visual of a “swarm” of activity, possibly allowing  help police officers out when identifying where to place additional officers or where to step up additional patrols for events. It’s not like it hasn’t been done before. It was; for last year’s SXSW conference in Austin, TX.

We don’t necessarily need to share any information about traffic while we’re driving because – well, we already do that with Google Maps if we use it on a GPS-enabled phone.

As a matter of fact, we’ve been sharing personal information for a long time now – everything from zip codes when checking out at a major chain store to email addresses via website logins in exchange for a “cookie” that tracks where you visit. That’s probably why so many people have been sharing their homes as destinations online.

I considered adding my home as a place I could become “mayor” of easily, though I still haven’t. Even without that tidbit of knowledge, I’m certain that folks can figure out when I’m home and when I’m not.

One more thing too – just because I’ve said where I am doesn’t mean that someone isn’t home or that my neighbor isn’t next door. We post when stores and restaurants open and close too, remember?

Maybe we share too much nowadays, but we do have the ability to control it. We also seem to want to stop the fall of the public man – only we don’t want to be that public.

What do you think?


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