Late this week another social networking privacy problem came to light. On Friday the web site Cult of Mac published a post about an app called Girls Around Me. The application pulls data from social sites such as Facebook and Foursquare and combines them and would show you quite a bit of information about the people around you (though not just women as the name suggests). I say “would” because Foursquare shut the app’s access down after the publicity.
This app wasn’t really doing anything that violated any rules. All the data was freely available from the web sites involved and had been set to be public. The creepy activities described in the article were doable before the app and still doable now the app has effectively been shut down. This app just made it a lot easier.
In my post about social networks late last year I mostly discussed the problem of mapping real world relationships to the neat buckets of these sites. Not directly mentioned in that post was the role of the world. Those are the people that you don’t know. The problem isn’t this app, it’s the fact that a lot of people don’t realize how much they are sharing to the world.
Social media apps work by sharing. Without any sharing they are useless. You sharing brings more users to the site. You sharing gives more information they can turn around and sell to advertisers. You sharing makes them money. You sharing everything with everyone is therefore the default. Every tweet, every status update, every check in, and every pin. You can change the settings to be more private on every site. Most people don’t know this, and many don’t care.
Think about what you share. If you choose to share everything about your life, that’s fine and perhaps even noble. I do hide a few items for various reasons on these sites. The point is to think about it. Don’t accept the defaults blindly. Share what you want with who you want.