5 Ways Location-Based Social Networks Get Really, Really Creepy

An article in AdAge by called “How Location-Based Social Networking Gets Creepy” shows the peril of an imaginative (and somewhat perverse) scenario for the author, Jim Louderback. In this article Jim’s alleged pedophile neighbor became mayor of the local elementary school but turned out to be a decent guy. The article points out one potential situation where putting certain information out to a network of friends can be misread. Given the news that Facebook will be also unleashing location-based checkins, it’s worth shining the spotlight on a few more real perils that could be misread when using location-based networks.

Peril 1: “My Dog At My Homework”

Location-based anything means you’re using GPS to check in from a specific location. It also keeps a history of where you’ve been. Saying you’ve missed a work or school deadline because of a computer outage or other made up excuse is no longer valid, especially when your checkins from last night are public.

Peril 2: Party! Party! Party!

I was on the phone with a sister agency colleague the other day when he told me this gem. Someone that reports to him called in sick, which is not unusual, except the evening before she had been checking in from various bars starting at 8 PM – with the last stop being 4 AM. You’re not sick, you’re hungover. Be smart about what time you’re checking in or – gasp – just be honest about why you need a few extra hours of sleep.

Peril 3: Being The World’s Worst Poker Player

One golden rule for those of us in the agency world is to never – NEVER – check in from a pitch. Typically each agency wants to match or trump their competitors thinking and team, so knowing who a competitor is marching into the room in advance could allow for some last-minute maneuvering. This also applies to competing marketers – don’t check in from other businesses that could give away your hand, whether it’s a game-changing partnership, distribution deal or, heaven forbid – an interview. Tip: As tempting as it might be to become the mayor of ESPN, don’t do it until AFTER the information (deal, pitch win, etc) goes public.

Peril 4: Really, Really, Really Insecure People

Personally I don’t care where people go, what they do, what they look like or how long they work – as you may have guessed, my management style is that you can do what you want as long as the work gets done and it’s excellent. That’s not the case for everyone, however. Some insecure clock-watchers really still care about the part in your hair and how long you’re glued to your seat, even if you’re not being productive or have a valid reason (or permission) for leaving the office early  or coming in late. Don’t let these insecure fools run wild with assumptions or worse, ammunition to stick a knife in your back.

Peril 5: Getting Personal

Foursquare is one place that allows you to leave comments or “tips” on locations. For example, “Try the roast beef!” might be left at a restaurant. Much like public comments on a blog, what you drop on a location is not only searchable by those visiting but others looking to see what you’re up to. Some advice: Personal comments and jokes should be made between two people, not the entire world.


Overall location based services are elevating the privacy debate with good cause. It’s important to remember that accountability is something that people associate with unrelated personal behaviors and appearances.  As a user of these services you also need to be aware that, like other forms of social media, what you’re publishing “can and will be used against you” by competitors and your “friends”. It’s worth thinking about who you accept  into your networks – yes, even bosses – once you decide to take the plunge.

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