Mosaic / Reviews / April 23, 2014

Procrastination Station: Location-based apps get creepy

Apps and services that track users based on location seem like a thing of NSA conspiracy theories, but they’re becoming more prevalent with the growth of popular social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Facebook recently introduced a new feature called “Nearby Friends” that broadcasts users’ locations and allows them to see who is around.

Facebook wants users to think of it as a way to see who’s at a party or who’s close enough to grab coffee with. If a friend is nearby, users can also message them their exact location on a map.

This probably sounds extremely creepy, but Facebook has instituted safeguards to protect their users.

First off, users opt in to Nearby Friends. It is completely up to the user whether or not they want to utilize the feature.

With Nearby Friends, users first choose who they can send their location to (for example, you can set it so that your location can only be broadcasted to close friends). Users can also decide how long they want their location to be broadcasted.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is the fact that Facebook will save your location history on its servers. According to digital magazine TechCrunch, Nearby Friends is like many other Facebook features in that location history makes it easier to send targeted ads to users.

To opt out, users can both clear their location history and turn the tracking feature off via location settings.

It should be noted that Facebook has been utilizing location services years before they debuted Nearby Friends.

Their “Check In” feature, though relatively underutilized, has been available for users to broadcast their location with a status message.

Twitter and Instagram similarly allow users to broadcast their locations in posts, and many third party apps utilize this data to track users, show who’s around, what’s going on in the area, etc.

Hoodster takes location data from Twitter and Instagram posts to create a feed of the closest, most recent posts from both social media sites.

Users don’t need to log in or create an account, nor are they allowed to interact with other users within the app itself.Instead, the only options available to users is the ability to determine the radius of the area from which Hoodster finds social media posts, and the ability to “mute” users.

It’s useful on campus, as it allows students to look through tweets of other nearby students, without having to follow every student with a Twitter or Instagram account.

Hoodster essentially aggregates public data for users, and can be used to gauge what’s going on in a specific location (just think of how useful or entertaining it can be for campus wide events).

Circle, “The Local Network,” does the same thing, but makes users create accounts in order to access the app. This makes it less usable than apps like Hoodster (which doesn’t thrive on a strong user base), because of the lack of users needed to fully analyze a location.

At a small school like Knox, unknown apps like Circle are simply useless.

With the growing presence of location based apps and services, know that you will always (or at least currently) have the ability to turn these features off.

Check your settings on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. to make sure you’re not broadcasting data you don’t want to people to see, and if you’re using a smartphone, turn off location tracking when you don’t feel the need to broadcast your location.

On or off, location tracking is now commonplace to the world of social media, and users should take the time to understand how it affects them.

Tags:  app creepy location privacy procrastination

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Casey Mendoza
Casey Mendoza is a junior majoring in political science with a double minor in philosophy and Chinese. This is her third year working for TKS as a photographer and photo editor. Casey also works as a photography intern for the Galesburg Register-Mail. In 2013, she won third place in the Photo Essay category from the Illinois College Press Association. In the Winter and Spring of 2014, Casey will be studying journalism and working in Washington D.C. She manages the YouTube Channel for The Anglerfish Magazine and works as video editor for Question Mark Productions.

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