The phenomenon of people using their smartphone or tablet to check-in to places has become extremely popular in the recent years. Location-based social networks such as Foursquare, Twitter, and Facebook allow users to easily announce where they are and who they are with. So, why do people check-in, and what are the potential risks of announcing your whereabouts to the rest of the world?
Why do people check-in?
People have different reasons for using their mobile device to check-in to a location. For some, their reason can be as simple as just wanting to have a record of places they’ve visited on their vacation. For others, their reason could be so they can earn rewards such as badges, mayorship, or to redeem some special offer or discount from participating businesses. Finally for some, it could be the sense of achievement or accomplishment for being where they say they’ve checked-in to. (After all, checking-in at the peak of Mt. Everest is sure to result in many Likes, comments, and bragging rights!)
Why you should be cautious about checking-in
Although announcing your whereabouts to your friends and followers can be fun and rewarding, being too open about your current location could be potentially dangerous.
First, the potential risk of checking-in is that the announcement of your whereabouts may be seen by more than your friends and family. Criminals scour social networks to gain intelligence about their potential targets, and information such as checking-in to a movie theater or a hotel in Las Vegas is an open invitation for your home or apartment to being burglarized. In fact, a recent study found that 78% of ex-burglars used social media to target potential homes to burglarize. Imagine coming home from a nice dinner or vacation to find burglars have ransacked your safe haven.
Online Predators and Stalkers
Next, there is the potential risk of online predators and stalkers to take into consideration, as burglars aren’t the ones who scour through social networks for intelligence on potential targets. Having your home or apartment burglarized is traumatizing, but having an online predator know the up-to-the-minute details about where you are could put everyone involved in grave danger. Imagine always “conveniently” bumping into the same person at the grocery store, gas station, or your favorite hangout spot – immediately after you check-in.
Other things to consider
Before you hit your next destination, here are a few things you can do and consider before you check-in to a location.
Does everyone (I mean, EVERYONE) need to know?
Those closest to you typically would be the ones who would accompany you to a restaurant or would know when you’ll be going out of town to a vacation spot or a business trip. The next time you consider checking-in, think to yourself: who really needs to know? You may have a lot of friends or followers on your social media accounts, but it’s safe to assume that you do not have a close relationship with every single person. And if they’re not your close friends or family members, what is the value to you or your followers to know where you are?
In short, those who need to know, should already know. And those who don’t need to know probably don’t need to be informed about your whereabouts to begin with.
Review privacy settings
You should also take a few minutes to review the privacy settings for the social networks you use to check-in. Make sure you set your privacy settings where you’re comfortable with who will be able to see where you’ve checked into. Using Facebook as an example, you should set your privacy to “Friends” or to “Custom”, where you can then list specific people to see that check-in. If all the options for the privacy settings still leave you uncomfortable, perhaps it’s time to rethink whether you want to check-in using that location-based social network.
Post your pictures after your adventure
Although it’s convenient to post pictures and check-in to your current location in real-time on your social media accounts, doing so announces to the rest of the world where you are. It’s as if you’ve placed a portable GPS tracker on yourself and have given the tracking system to other people.
Instead, consider posting the pictures from your adventure after you get home. Though this may be less instantaneous, the inconvenience may be worth the trouble if it eliminates, or at least reduces, the potentials risks mentioned above. Posting up photos after your adventure also helps in being inconspicuous, as doing so only discloses that you were at a destination but not necessarily that you are presently there.
Is it really worth the risk?
Location-based social networks aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important not to get carried away by mindlessly checking-in to locations without considering the potential risks. The next time you’re thinking about announcing your whereabouts to the rest of the social sphere, ask yourself if it is really worth the risk.