“Louise has straight, auburn hair and, judging by the only photograph I have of her, she’s in her 30s. She works in recruitment. I also know which train station she uses regularly, what supermarket she shopped at last night and where she met her friends for a meal in her home town last week.”
So begins a piece in today’s Guardian, in which reporter Leo Hickman outlines how easily he is able to stalk a woman chosen at random, using only her Foursquare account, a glance at her most recent tweets, and the information that Google has gathered about her over time, including her photo.
Indeed, it doesn’t take Hickman long to track down poor, unsuspecting Louise at a recruitment networking event being held in the basement of a bar, where he shows her just how vulnerable she’s making herself.
Except that once they meet, Louise isn’t as flummoxed as Hickman — and readers — might expect. Indeed, when Hickman tells her who he is and how much he’s “managed to deduce about her life simply by using my phone,” Louise doesn’t jump out of her seat and vow to quit using the service immediately. Rather, she calls the revelation a “a little unnerving,” before diving into Foursquare’s “excellent uses for business,” particularly when — ha, ha — it comes to “stalking” potential recruits.
In fact, hours after Louise tells Hickman that she “can now see the negative implications of Foursquare in the real world,” one senses that she was likely “checking in” elsewhere, and gleefully tweeting about their encounter.
Louise is anything but atypical, judging by recent reports. Despite the occasional — and occasionally massive – privacy leak, geolocation service users are demonstrating that they aren’t concerned enough to change tack. On the contrary, just earlier this week, Foursquare announced that it’s experiencing one million “check-ins” each day.
And in a recent study of 1,500 people conducted by the security startup Webroot, 55 percent said they worried about privacy loss; another 45 percent said they worried about tipping off burglars to their whereabouts. The survey’s participants were all regular users of location-based tools and games.
“I suppose the benefit of checking in is to create a relationship, or say to people that you’ve gone somewhere interesting,” Louise tells Hickman. “It’s all part of social competitiveness, I suppose. It has become a habit for so many of us.”