Geolocations: the Future of Social Networking

(note: this is the first in a series of commentaries on social networking and geolocation technology)

Since the summer, Facebok and Twitter have both been announcing changes to get more involved in the geolocatoin tracking game. Today, Facebook mace several announcements pertaining to Places, the site’s location platform. Along with Google, all of these sites are pushing location updates more and more. The reasons are numerous, but many are uneasy about the idea of updating a GPS location online for all to see.

Is it safe?

To some, the answer seems like an obvious no, and for many others, there is an inherent uneasiness with the changes that are being made.

One thing is certain. There will be people who utilize geolocations for illegal and immoral purposes. To think anything else would be naieve. People have already used social networking site like Facebook and Twitter to commit crimes.

If a person updates their location, for instance that they are eating at a specific restaurant, the update is making one thing clear: If they are at a restaurant, then they are NOT at home. So can it be dangerous? Yes, but it can also be dangerous to have a job where you work the same hours everyday, and are predictably away from home at the same times everyday.

We shouldn’t live our lives in fear. People may use social networking sites for illegal purposes, but it’s not the fault of the site when they do it. It’s the fault of the criminal. Eliminating geolocation technology would not ensure a crime wouldn’t happen. It would simply mitigate a resource that a potential criminal would have. Anyone who has enough determination to do something illegal is going to commit the illegal action, regardless of resources.

I see numerous status updates of friends on Facebook and Twitter everyday that say things like “going to (insert name) mall,” or “grabbing coffee at…” If an individual says where they are in a status, then how is that any different than showing where they are?

Geolocation tracking is the future. I think there is value in embracing technology and where the world is going. Last month, Facebook reached over 200 million worldwide users who use the site through mobile phones, triple where they were a year ago according to the Facebook blog. In two years, smart phones will be as ubiquitous in America as regular cell phones are today.

We will be a nation of people with our own personal GPS devices. I see value in embracing where social networking is going, instead of cowering in fear and trying to remain cocooned from the world. I don’t understand the point of social networking if you’re trying to be fearful of a world where information is public.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that people should ALWAYS have the right to determine what they post and what they make public. I also advocate for smart social networking. I don’t think updating a geoloco status from your home or a friend’s home is a good idea. Nor would I think it is a good idea to tag your location without thinking about what you’re doing: i.e. don’t Tweet, “Walking down that same dark alley that I always walk down alone at this exact same time on Wednesday nights with an unlocked briefcase full of money.”

I digress. And I realize no one would ever Tweet that. (You couldn’t, it was longer than 140 characters).

Considering as much emphasis that all of the major social networking sites are placing, as well as the increasing number of networking sites specifically created for mobile phones, it’s clear that Silicon Valley expects geolocation to be big. There will be bumps in the road at times, but I think there is a lot of good that can also come from this expanding technology.

For people who are concerned, I can’t fault you for being uneasy about geoloco. But I believe that if you look into the technology, there are ways to do it safely.

jrb 11/3/10

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