There used to be a time when wrinkled, folded up maps filled the glove boxes and center consoles of our vehicles. These well worn charts were how we navigated down interstates and through cities we had never visited before. Nowadays, global positioning systems (GPS) take up this space and, in newer model cars, are built directly into the dashboard. But in 2011, even these devices are falling by the wayside in favor of the smartphones and tablet devices that we carry in our pockets.
“Geosocial” services have slowly integrated into our daily lives and routines. If you have to meet someone, there’s nothing easier than clicking the Maps app on your phone and knowing your route within seconds. If you’re vying to retain your seat as the Mayor of your favorite lunch spot, you make sure to never forget a check-in. Twitter can provide time, location and device information for your updates, and Facebook recently added a feature to include your current location in your status update.
Recent surveys by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project have revealed that 55% of Americans have used the GPS functions of their mobile devices, and 28% actively utilize “location-augmented activities.” These include general location and map services, check-in programs such as Foursquare and GoWalla, and social media platforms that include geographical locations in posts and updates such as Facebook and Twitter.
But what does this mean for our online security? The more information we are willing to share, the more conscious we must be in terms of privacy. Become familiar with the privacy settings of your social media sites. Who do you allow to view your profile? Is your Facebook page public? Can anybody read your tweets? Your privacy settings are an important start, but even the strictest of habits does not eliminate risk. Geolocation information can be included in the metadata of digital photographs taken by newer cameras and mobile devices. This metadata is retained during upload and can offer your home address by simply viewing the file information.
Flickr, one of the most popular photo sharing sites, has recently announced a new geofences feature that provides an aerial view of your intended sharing geography. The option allows users to customize specific locations, for example “School” and “Home,” that allow only friends and family within these geographic boundaries to view your uploaded photos. Flickr’s implementation is an ideal choice of providing an intuitive way to select your sharing boundaries without over-complicating the process.
Not everyone is so close knit that they can define their social lives within a mile radius of their home or place of work, so Flickr’s solution is not a cure all, but a well-needed bandage. By adding a service that goes beyond the normal security checkboxes, Flickr can begin to regulate the estimated 300 million geotagged photos the site currently hosts. Additionally, geofences can aid in the protection of minors, an audience which may upload photos without being aware of the sensitivity of data being shared.
Online security is crucial when it comes to social media. More and more, these social platforms are offering updated, more in-depth options for privacy settings. Be sure to review these changes whenever you notice an update and make sure you are comfortable with what you are sharing and with whom. It truly is a matter of common sense. Ask yourself, “Am I okay with sharing this to my friends? To my friends’ friends? To the world?”