Anyone who has used Foursquare knows how fun and addictive the social networking tool can be. There is something in human nature that makes us go crazy when we have something to collect to reach a goal (see Pokemon). However, as fun as Foursquare is, there are inherent dangers in using the app.
For those who are unfamiliar, Foursquare is a mobile locator application that allows you to “check in” at locations and earn badges depending on the location and how many other people and Foursquare users are there with you. When you check in, your location information is included in a Foursquare post that shows up on Foursquare and (depending on your settings) your Twitter feed…there’s even a map pinpointing your location along with how many people are with you. If this is already beginning to sound a bit dangerous, you are right to think so. Imagine: a burglar would love nothing more than to know where you are and how long it will take for you to return home, so that he or she can rob your house or apartment without fear of being caught in the act. This was a tactic already being used by burglars who would check Facebook users’ status updates for information on where they were going and when…with the addition of location data on mobile devices, things just got a lot easier for criminals. There have even been websites like the currently-closed PleaseRobMe.com that compiled this type of data in the past in a mocking way. With Foursquare, it is no longer a joke.
Even if you have roommates watching over your residence (or at least a really good alarm system), being careless with your Foursquare updates can still be dangerous. As mentioned before, Foursquare will update your exact location along with how many people are with you. If a dangerous individual had access to this information and knew that you were alone, you could be a risk for mugging or other assault. It is important to remember that social networking can be a very open experience: that is, anyone and everyone could have access to your information. With hundreds or even thousands of followers on Twitter, can you be sure that none of them are dangerous?
This is not to say that Foursquare is too dangerous to use and must be avoided at all costs. There are ways that you can still enjoy the addictive fun of the app without worry. First, be sure to protect your Twitter feed, or any other linked feed that publishes your location data from Foursquare. Doing so will keep strangers from seeing your tweets unless you approve them as a follower…so only approve people you know and trust! Second, be careful when and where you check in on Foursquare. If you’re alone and it is late at night, that might not be the best time to use the app. Check in only when you are with friends who can walk you to your car, and when you know that there is no risk of anyone breaking into your home. Finally, if you find that there is a Foursquare user you do not trust, make sure you use Foursquare’s block feature to block that user. With a little bit of caution, you can go back to earning your badges without worry!
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