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Location, location, location

By Paul O'Reilly

Location-based social networking burst onto the scene in 2009, with the launch of Foursquare at the South by Southwest Interactive event in Austin, Texas. Foursquare introduced the concept of the “check-in,” whereby an individual could use social media to broadcast his or her location to a group of friends or followers. Since that time, a variation of the check-in has been adopted by almost every other social network, and it’s become commonplace to see a stream of location updates every time you open your Facebook page.

Despite its ubiquity, I’ve never quite understood the check-in. There is a narcissistic “look-at-me” quality to letting people know wherever you might be at any given moment. And any “cool factor” that might be associated with your current location is surely negated by the fact that you are not cool enough to keep it to yourself!

And then there are the privacy issues. Do you really want a bunch of friends and acquaintances knowing where you are at all times? Even if your current boss isn’t too worried about all that time you seem to spend in your local bar, future employers might have a very different perspective.

However, the advent of cell phone and GPS mapping and the acceptance of location-based social networking have also given rise to a torrent of location-based apps. Some of these, like Find My iPhone or Verizon’s Family Locator service perform a very useful function and can give us some much-needed peace of mind. But there are also many apps that ask for location-tracking privileges without offering any good reason.

It’s always a good idea to take a close look at the permissions that the developer is seeking before you download an app. If you are concerned about existing apps on your smartphone or tablet, you can always revisit iTunes or Google Play (formerly Android Market) to review the permissions that you previously granted.

In the digital age, your whereabouts is a highly sought-after piece of personal information. Advertisers want your location so they can deliver geo-specific offers; news organizations and publishers want it so they can deliver more relevant content; and it seems that everyone else on the Internet wants it so they can offer you Groupon-style daily deals.

But there is nothing wrong with regarding your location the same way you regard your e-mail address or your home phone number – something that’s only given out on a need-to-know basis. Our smartphones are there to keep us connected to the world, but on our terms not anyone else’s.

Do you use location-based social networking or other location-based services? What has been your experience?

This article first appeared in Family Buzz, a VerizonInsider blog on the exciting and ever-expanding world of mobile technology.

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