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Flirting With Foursquare: When Does Social Networking Meet Socially Awkward?

The application Color has gotten a lot of press lately. The mobile application lets you take pictures, that are then shared with anyone in a 100 foot vicinity of where you are. So, if you’re sitting in a restaurant with a friend who takes your picture, anyone else who’s in the restaurant can load up the app and see that picture as well. The same could be said for someone who’s hanging out at the club next door, or the homeless man hanging out under a park bench with an iPhone. All of the pictures taken with the application are public, and are shared with those around you, rather than a set of “friends” that you’ve authorized to view them.

The idea is pretty slick, but it also raises a ton of privacy concerns. Do you want to publish pictures of yourself that literally anyone can access? Isn’t checking out pictures taken by people in the same building you’re in just a touch creepy?

When do location-based services get too personal?

I’ve been having this conversation with some friends for a while now. We all use Foursquare, but we all use the service entirely differently. I make a point to only “friend” people that I’m actually friends with in real life. My thought “If I wouldn’t want you strolling up to the coffee shop I’m at and hanging out, then I’m not going to friend you on Foursquare.” I have over 100 pending friend requests on the service (you never know when I might wanna approve somebody). My thought, however, is that if there’s no reason for you to know where I am all the time, then I’m not going to tell you.  If we don’t live in the same city – you don’t need to know I’m at Starbucks. What’s the point? I also think it’s a touch creepy (and maybe a bit unsafe) to advertise my location to strangers.

So, then I have another friend who friends everyone in sight, and will accept any friend request sent his way. Dude has a couple thousand Foursquare friends, which means he’s essentially telling thousands of people where he is all the time. He doesn’t know the majority of these people, but in my mind by friending them on Foursquare he’s saying he is interested in where they are all the time, and they’re interested that he hit up the Subway around lunch time. That’s a little too public for me.

When social networking meets the real world

Another friend of mine took the friending strangers on Foursquare to an interesting level I’d never thought of before. While at a concert, she Foursquare-friended an attractive guy nearby. When he approved her friendship, she used his linked personal information to send him an email saying hello. Creepy? Or using the service to connect with new people?

I had a similar encounter with a woman in my town. We were constantly in the same places, she eventually reached out to me on Twitter, and the next time we were in the same place had a beer together. We obviously had a lot in common, so it made sense that we should actually sit down and chat sometime. That instance I think of as cool rather than creepy, but maybe someone else might see if differently.

My Foursquare turned real world friendship also stemmed from Twitter, a platform that is already open and where I regularly interact with “strangers.” I also have my phone number linked with my Foursquare profile. Had she decided to give me a call, or texted me….we might have never interacted. That crosses an imaginary personal/private line for me that would have instantly put her in the “creepy” category, even though I was essentially giving her that personal information in the first place.

Where do you draw that line?

I’m interested to hear what you guys think about location-based social networking, and where the line should be drawn. If someone sees your picture on Color, can they walk over to your table and say hello? You are after all broadcasting the picture essentially for that person to see, it’s not entirely unreasonable for them to come say hello…or is it? Can the stranger you’re friends with on Foursquare see you check in at a coffee shop and come sit down? What do you think “acceptable use” for these services, and where do you think things get creepy?


Emily Price

Emily has been obsessed with computers since the early 80s when she discovered she could play Ghostbusters on her father's Commodore 64. She...

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