Twitter is on the verge of implementing a new feature: the ability to automatically append your location (via latitude and longitude) to your tweets. This feature will be affirmatively opt-in. In other words, the default is that the functionality will be turned OFF, and you must request it to be turned on in your settings.
You can read the announcement here on the Twitter blog.
A number of Twitter apps and web services already offer this functionality (e.g. Tweetie, UberTwitter, Foursquare, Brightkite). Here’s an example, from SocialGreat‘s aggregation of Brightkite and Foursquare (click on the graphic to enlarge it):
Twitter’s underlying integration and announcement of geo-location, and the apps sure to piggyback on that data, will make millions more potential users aware of it at once. So I wanted to point out its possible uses, and more importantly, its possible risks.
What are some possible uses?
- Spontaneous meet-ups with nearby Tweeters, whether you follow/know them or not.
- Finding others at the same concert, park, restaurant, sporting event, etc.
- Having retailers tweet offers or discounts to you when you’re in their neighborhood.
- Reading tweets and getting information from people in your vicinity following a natural disaster or other emergency. (This, to me, is a truly useful reason to selectively switch on the functionality.)
As compelling as any or all of that might be, in almost all instances my plan will be to leave the geo-location feature turned OFF. As I see it, there are two significant risks:
1. You’d be telling everyone where you are. Do you really want any and everyone who follows you on Twitter to know your location? Certainly any Tweeter with a public profile (entertainers, athletes, corporate executives, government officials, newscasters, etc.) should think twice about it. Most fans are friendly and harmless, but what about those who are a bit more, well, fanatic? Or the paparazzi? Or what if you’re just wanting some private time with family, friends, colleagues?
You needn’t have a public profile to be concerned. Perhaps you have a jealous ex. A disgruntled employee or vendor. A process server trying to find you. Worse still, a potential assailant could use it to look for potential victims.
And what if you have that geo-location feature turned on when you’re tweeting AT HOME? An executive speaking at the recent 140TC conference revealed he discovered the hard way that UberTwitter appends one’s location automatically if your tweet is short, a function he says can’t be disabled, and now will no longer tweet from his BlackBerry while at home.
2. Conversely, you could be telling everyone that you AREN’T at home. It’s not terribly difficult, these days, to find out where someone lives. Announcing that you’re at a concert… or a museum… or on vacation… is tantamount to announcing that you are NOT at home, and for about how long you’re likely not to be there. Even if your announcement is oblique (via latitude/longitude) as opposed to overt (“I’m at the Dodgers game!”), you’re still broadcasting that your house is unoccupied.
There are already documented cases of homes being robbed when their owners have tweeted about being out. Here’s one recent story on it from Mashable..
So as exciting as the potential for Twitter’s geo-location feature might be, activate it selectively and with a thought to the ramifications. The same goes for Tweeting (or Facebook updating, etc.) your whereabouts in general. Don’t post in haste and repent at leisure.
I absolutely agree — it’s a terribly scary idea. A dear friend was twittering from weddings and restaurants and high profile places in Manhattan using UberTwitter, mentioning celebrity names and so on, and I almost had to call Gavin DeBecker.
On my phone Tweetie offers this service and I’ve used it to mark particularly beautiful views while in the Santa Monica Mountains, and in order to find where I was on a map later.
Thank you for this information and for your always informative and lively tweets.
Miss W x
creepy!!!! I will be making sure this is turned off. Big Brother (and all his kids) are watching you!
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