Sure, it sounds like a great idea to check into your favorite bar or coffee shop on Facebook, Foursquare, Yelp, or any number of applications that let you make similar announcements of where you are and what you like.
But when these activities can incorporate precise GPS coordinates, which create a lot of reasons why it’s a bad idea to do this — or at least why there are significant risks that come along with such social media activity that must be managed very carefully.
Revealing addresses. When you check in or post photos or do anything that incorporates GPS coordinates, you can be pinpointing exact addresses. If you do this at your home or those of your friends, you broadcast those home locations to the public (when posted in tandem on Twitter), exposing yourself and your loved ones to burglary or worse.
Not at home. If you are in one place, you are not in another. That’s a time-space reality we all know, burglars included. So if you’re checked in at a restaurant, you’re not at home. Your friends know this, and if you also broadcast that information on Twitter, so do potential social-networking thieves who, if they know or are able to determine where you live, now have free reign to invade your home.
Things to steal. You just bought a new TV or car or watch and you want your friends to know. But when you photo on Instagram or Twitter — venues where anyone can follow you and see what you post — there are lots of strangers who now know that you own this new valuable thing. And if you’ve previously revealed your address, you could be in trouble. This has been an issue for the children of the insanely wealthy, but it could become one for you, too, if you’re not careful.
Children’s safety. Last but far from least is the potential threat that comes when children reveal their whereabouts. Predators are nothing if not Internet savvy these days, and if your kid is checking in at a public location like school or the movie theater — or worse still, at home —they are potentially putting themselves in danger.
So how should you use these popular check-in apps?
- First, check in only using services where you are sharing that information with a small and closed circle of friends.
- Second, don’t activate — or actively deactivate, if it’s already activated — the geolocation functionalities of that are included in Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, and don’t link your Foursquare account to your Twitter account.
- Finally, if you have children, talk to them about how to use these apps and stress to them the importance of never sharing their location on social media, whether it is through GPS information or written status updates.