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Is Total Disclosure Really Necessary?

One of the pillars of the social media revolution over the past few years has been the enthusiastic and insatiable desire among tens of millions of people to talk about what they’re doing – everything from the need to have a coffee and how their cat is sick to views on world politics and the latest and great online services.

In many ways, I totally get the need to tell what you’re doing or thinking.

But what puzzles me is the next stage in the social media total disclosure movement: the need to tell where you’re located. Using services such as FourSquare and Brightkite, people are broadcasting their locations – e.g. I’m now at 432 Main St., Boston, Mass.

While I sort of get why some people might find this service to be interesting or a novelty, it strikes me as so 1984-ish. It’s bad enough we’re publicly disclosing lots of personal details of our lives but when you start telling people where you are as well, the entire concept of privacy evaporates.

Maybe it’s the way we’re living these days but broadcasting my location isn’t something I’m going to do. If anyone wants to know where I’m located, they can call me. Otherwise, I’m wandering around the city in relative anonymity aside from all those CCTV cameras being installed.

It does make you wonder whether the concept of privacy is disappearing little by little, and whether anyone is worried about it. Personally, I’ve taken a pragmatic approach to online disclosure. While I have a relatively high profile on the Web in terms of who I am and what I do professionally, I’ve tried to keep my personal life relatively low-key. So the idea of broadcasting my location is a no-go.

Sooner or later, this total disclosure phenomena is going to bite someone in the ass. If you’re a social media savvy break and enter specialist, you could make a killing by simply monitoring who’s broadcasting the fact they are working away from home or going on vacation.

Sometimes, it’s best to keep your cards close to the vest but many people are more than happy to do the opposite.

More: Here’s a CNN opinion piece by Mashable Pete Cashmore on why privacy dead.

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Otto42 Otto

    There's a lot of handy reasons to broadcast my location, but the main one is for meeting others.

    I have a group of about 20-30 friends that I hang out with often. In the past, meeting up for drinks after work with several of them required a fair amount of back and forth texting, people sending messages to others like "where r u?" and so forth. Basically, that is annoying as hell.

    Since we've started using BrightKite, that's all stopped. Now we simply check in whenever one of us goes somewhere, and everybody else can simply look to see where our BrightKite friends are when we're wanting to go meet them. No more interruptions during happy hour with back and forth text messages. People just go where the others happen to be.

    Now, there is privacy concerns there. For example, I don't want to broadcast my work and home locations to the world. But I don't care if my friends know. This is why I like BrightKite, because it has very handy privacy controls. Every check-in can be public or private, you can control default privacy settings for each friend and even each location. So when I check in at home, it's *always* private, and only my friends can see it. Ditto the workplace.

    BrightKite even supports notification, on a per person level. So if I want to be SMSd or emailed when a particular friend of mine checks in anywhere, I can (I call this "stalker mode"). Or, I can set it to notify me whenever my friends check in within a few blocks of wherever I happen to be.

    The nice thing about services like these is that they're totally opt-in. You're not broadcasting your location, except when you explicitly want to do so. If I'm at a bar and I want people to come meet me or say hi, then I check in there. If I'm at a place and I don't want people to know about it, then I merely don't check in there. Simple. Your privacy is absolutely under your own control, because you have to opt-into sharing your location.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/markevans markevans

    Thanks – appreciate the insight into how these tools can be used without surrendering your privacy to everyone. I can see how they can be useful as long as controls are in place as to who and when.

    cheers, Mark

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/righini righini

    perfectly agree with many of your statements. The only disclosure that we need is the economic disclosure (as in Matt Cutts' post). Anyway sometimes broadcasting things to our trusted friends may be very time saving.

  • http://www.itworldcanada.com/blogs/makingitwork/default.aspx Pedro Cardoso

    Mark, agree with your article and the (disturbing) trend of transparency superseding privacy concerns. I was going to comment on the advantages of geo-location transparency where the appropriate controls are in place, but Otto has covered it quite eloquently. The deeper concern I have, which you have highlighted in your follow up comment Mark, is where these tools and services are being embraced with what appears to be with a cavalier disregard for the privacy and personal security concerns. We saw it with the rush to Web 2.0 by the broader population, and now with location based services the potential risk and repercussions are far more immediate and serious. We need to continue to "shout from the rooftops" – educate as to where the value is – and increase awareness around the risks and considerations needed. Great Post.

  • http://www.itworldcanada.com/blogs/makingitwork/default.aspx Pedro Cardoso

    Mark, agree with your article and the (disturbing) trend of transparency superseding privacy concerns. I was going to comment on the advantages of geo-location transparency where the appropriate controls are in place, but Otto has covered it quite eloquently. The deeper concern I have, which you have highlighted in your follow up comment Mark, is where these tools and services are being embraced with what appears to be with a cavalier disregard for the privacy and personal security concerns. We saw it with the rush to Web 2.0 by the broader population, and now with location based services the potential risk and repercussions are far more immediate and serious. We need to continue to "shout from the rooftops" – educate as to where the value is – and increase awareness around the risks and considerations needed. Great Post.