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29th Apr 2010

The Idiocy of Immediacy

Our tech columnist Eamonn Carey doesn't want you to know where he is. And he's really not that bothered where you are either.


By Eamon Carey

I like location based services. I like the idea of Foursquare. I like the little competitive elements that it has built in. I’m the mayor of a few places in Dublin. I check in occasionally – perhaps less frequently now. I hope that cafes, bars and restaurants will get in on the idea by offering deals for Foursquare users – there are already a few in operation around the country.

However, after a few weeks of using it, I’m getting a little bit sick of it. Not because of the interface or the application, but because of oversharing. People share their location too often. I know, you can switch off the push notifications, and I have, but for some reason, it irrationally irritates me when people check in at their workplace, or in different rooms of their house (I’m not kidding). I don’t understand the rationale behind that. I can understand wanting to be the Mayor of the Stag’s Head (and I briefly was), but why be the mayor of a place that everyone knows you have to go to every day? Or a place where you get no reward other than a salary?

Like Google’s Buzz service, I also seem to be largely connected to people I don’t know. And the reality of the situation is that I don’t really care about the whereabouts of random punters I’ve never actually met. That’s partly my fault – for accepting too many friend requests in the initial stages of Foursquare and Buzz. I actually spent some time recently deleting a bunch of people from both services. I’m still a little bit wary of being connected to randomers, and a little bit nonplussed when they check into their living room.

It’s a bit irritating, and I also get the creeping feeling that it’s an accident waiting to happen. Paul Carr wrote about location based privacy on Techcrunch a few weeks ago. He talked about how people were checking into parties in San Francisco – pinging out the full address and a convenient map for potential gatecrashers. Foursquare has over 600,000 users worldwide at the moment, and that number is growing. However, Twitter have added geotagging, and there’s no reason to believe we won’t be seeing it on Facebook in the short term as well.

Now, the good thing is that your data is theoretically safe. Or is it? Here’s a nifty little idea that some Dutch programmers had. Please Rob Me is a little mashup of Twitter and Foursquare. This is what they had to say about the project:

“The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you’re definitely not… home. So here we are; on one end we’re leaving lights on when we’re going on a holiday, and on the other we’re telling everybody on the internet we’re not home. It gets even worse if you have “friends” who want to colonize your house. That means they have to enter your address, to tell everyone where they are. Your address.. on the internet.. Now you know what to do when people reach for their phone as soon as they enter your home. That’s right, slap them across the face.

The goal of this website is to raise some awareness on this issue and have people think about how they use services like Foursquare, Brightkite, Google Buzz etc.”

I must admit that I’ve seriously cut back on using Foursquare recently. I still use Twitter quite a lot, but I don’t tag my location. I occasionally use Buzz from my phone, but I’m very wary about broadcasting my location, cause you just never know who’s watching. This is just the tip of the iceberg – when you think about how a stalker or similar headcase could use a combination of Buzz, Twitter, Foursquare and others to find people, it’s quite scary….

Eamonn Carey is a digital media consultant and co-founder of URBN, a digital publishing and smartphone company.  He writes a weekly Tech View column every Thursday for

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