Facebook, Foursquare and Geolocation, OH MY!

Reports out today suggest that Facebook may have partnered with Localeze, a local search provider that provides Twitter’s “places” directory, to debut a new geolocation “check-in” feature in the next couple of weeks.

Geolocation (in brief): Geolocation provides the real-world geographic location of an object (like a cell phone or other Internet-connected device).  So a program that include a geolocation feature can provide a real-time, meaningful location point—like a street address—regarding an individual and their Internet use.

Foursquare, for example, has become a hot Internet company for it’s ability to let your friends, contacts and followers know where you are while also finding out where they are.  For example, as you walk into your favorite restaurant, the gym, your office, etc., you “check-in” on your cellphone or mobile device, and your friends/followers can see where you are on a Foursquare map.   Foursquare also has a game-like feel, because you can earn points and badges for checking in frequently or at certain times; if you visit a specific area or business enough, you can even become the “mayor” of that area.

Safety: Foursquare has better safety measures than some of the other geolocator services—first, only your Foursquare friends can access the information you post about your whereabouts, and second, only those that you choose to let know of your location will see your post.  Some users include their Foursquare posts on other social networking sites, like their Twitter accounts, giving broader access to their real-time location.  In an age that can feel overwhelmingly connected to technology at the cost of personal connection, it’s easy to see how this could be a cool resource for connecting with friends and peers online and offline.  No longer would you be shopping aisle one of Whole Foods while your BFF you’ve been dying to connect with is shopping in aisle eight without your knowledge.

BUT, of course, this real-time report of your whereabouts could also open up your kids (and you) to some dangerous scenarios, which is why it will be interesting to see what safety measures Facebook includes when it unveils its geolocation service later this year.

Our recommendation for parents is to be aware of some of the dangers associated with the misuse of this technology, and, if deciding to allow your kids to use this technology, you as their parent or caregiver should supervise their activity very closely.   If you can’t monitor it closely, it’s probably safer to do without.  As we recommend in our basic Internet Safety 101 Rules ‘N Tools®, it’s important for your kids to only befriend people online that they know offline, and that you, as their parent have viewed and approved.  If, for example, your teen is connected with a stranger, a potential bully, or worse, a sexual predator, posting these real-time location-based posts could open them up to real harm.

Also, as a general practice, it’s a good idea to know and approve the applications your kids are using on their mobile device, iphone, social networking site, etc.  Keeping up with evolving technologies can be daunting, so spend time alongside your kids, talk to them about the positives and the negatives and build an atmosphere of trust.

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