It’s time to draw the line on social media disclosure

Perhaps by now you’re heard of the “Please Rob Me” site that highlights those on Twitter disclosing that they’re away from their homes.

While the site is kind of funny, it draws attention to a serious point — disclosure of detailed personal information, including your precise physical location, will lead to crime. Notice I didn’t say MIGHT lead to crime. It is inevitable that the bad guys are going to figure this stuff out. They always do.

Last week I saw my first tweet that actually had a map attached to it. The stalkers can not only find you, the technology is telling them how to get to you.  Or your empty house.  Or your kids.

I’m particularly concerned by this emerging generation who is de-sensitized to what they’re sharing about themselves.  They’ve been conditioned to put everything out there all the time, so why not tell everyone where you are, too?  They’re actively and willingly teaching The Machine their personal habits, behavior patterns and hang-outs, just so they can be named “mayor” of a location on Foursquare or receive a free latte at Starbucks.

Where corruption can occur, corruption will occur. It is only a matter of time before a tragic crime draws attention to these serious issues and people start taking action, perhaps even legislation. Let’s not wait for that, OK?

As an individual, and especially as a parent, I think we need to draw the line on certain social web behaviors.

  • Actively teach your kids to be net-savvy. Instill a healthy dose of paranoia into their mindset.  Teach them about privacy settings and being Internet “street smart.”
  • Take a view that Internet access is a privilege, not a right. Set clear expectations and limits. If a child does something to endanger themselves on the Internet, there should be consequences, just as if they had wrecked a car or set a fire in the kitchen.
  • Personally, I would forbid my kids from using Foursquare or any technology that reveals their personal location at  a point in time.
  • Be involved in what they’re doing. Know enough about the technology to ask the right questions. Look at who has friended them and what those people are saying to your kids.  Until you are convinced they can demonstrate mature judgment, I don’t think kids have a right to Internet privacy.

A man told a story yesterday on a news report on Internet safety that as a precaution, he follows every one of his young son’s Facebook friends. “I’m a 39 year old man,” he said. “And these kids automatically follow me back even when they don’t know who I am. And their parents never question it either. It just shows me how dangerous this could be for young kids.”

If you’re a parent, deal with this. Don’t ignore the issue or avoid conflict with your kids over the family “privacy” battle.  Will you leave a comment and let me know what you think on this issue?

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  • Carrie Bond

    I would add that you should make your kids share their passwords with you so that you can access their accounts and see all their content. As you pointed out, it is a priviledge and not a right.

  • Excellent post Mark. It is foolish not to get involved and let kids have at it on the internet. I think parents need to also (in addition to what you have outlined) periodically review your child’s use. That means look at Twitter and FB conversations periodically and the friends they have connected to. Same thing on a cell phone for texting/sexting if your child has a mobile device. Honestly, not getting involved is active ignorance on the part of the parent.

  • Will something bad happen in connection with location based social networks? Yes; it probably will.

    Does that mean we should all stop using those services? No; it does not.

    The problem is not that something bad will happen in connection with location based social networks; it’s that the media will inevitably overreact and we’ll all rush to protect ourselves from the ‘danger’ of those services.

    This overreaction stems from the fact that we have difficulty assessing risk. Location services don’t create criminals, they just give them another tool to use. Even if you’re not sharing your location online, you’re almost equally as likely to be the random victim of a crime as someone who shares their location is likely to be the targeted victim of a crime. The only difference is that it feels like we’re doing something when we stop sharing our location and hide behind layer upon layer of privacy, which makes us feel like we can swing the odds in our favor.

    Now I’m not saying that everyone should go out and share every intimate detail of their lives with anyone who asks. My point is just that the fact we all assume these services should and will be regulated and legislated in response to a few unfortunate crimes is troubling, because we’re so willing to give up on all the benefits that these services can provide in exchange for a feeling of security, and we’ll take unnecessary steps to protect ourselves just because it feels like it’s the right thing to do, even if the real danger is essentially outside of our control.

  • I’m very wary of location based services. Mr Teen in this household doesn’t see what the problem is but I generally get him to listen by going over the dangers until he knows he has to listen.

    He’s old enough so I don’t police him, but I am amazed at how desensitized his generation is to sharing everything online.

    In the end I started going around local high schools and giving talks on how the Net can negatively affect kids’ futures – social media profiles can reveal too much. These kids listen more carefully than Mr Teen.

    Parents can only do so much and maybe kids won’t listen to mom or dad. A juicy lecture with a few scary scenarios played out to a gasping audience seems to strike a chord.

    Trouble is Mr Teen won’t let me near his school!

  • Mark

    @Cory Thanks for fleshing out a dissenting view for us. I would like to clarify that the point of the article was being involved with kids and even then, only until they “demonstrate mature judgment.”

    In my estimation, if geo-enabled technology enables the abduction of even one child, there is no such thing as an “over-reaction,” by the media or anybody else.

    Having said that, as an adult I also have made a choice to draw the line at codifying my location, although I certainly have tweeted out a location from time to time in search of friends. For me as an individual, it’s not so much about imminent crime as that people are not thinking through where all this will lead, the dynamics we are setting up by teaching algorithms our behavior patterns.

    I would like to hear more about the benefits you perceive from being on Google’s map 24/7. I honestly don’t see the long-term benefit of being the mayor of my local dry cleaner.

  • Mark

    @Jon What a wonderful gesture — teaching Internet safety to teens. I’ll bet that has made quite an impression on Mr. Teen, although he probably would never tell you!

    @Carrie + @ Marc Thanks for your additions to the discussion.

  • I’m not a parent but as a woman I’m wary as well. I just don’t get the need to share where I am so publicly and via an eBullhorn. I do share more on Facebook because I’m only visible to my friends so I’m sharing as a means of a group dialog (e.g. Hey I’m at this restaurant and tonight’s special is awesome!)

    I signed up for foursquare last year and tried it for a week or two. I wanted to understand how it worked but I don’t see a practical application. Yet, it’s growing like wildfire. Those badges sure do motivate…

    @Jon – Wow that’s awesome! Do you get parents as well? I’ll bet they’d really benefit from it as well. I think I’m going to contact my regional high school to see if I could help out. Thanks for the idea!

  • Andrew Flick

    Thoughtful post, Mark. I agree with your point about children requiring oversight when it comes to LBS, just as they do with all other forms of real and virtual life. Jennifer Leggio also discusses Please Rob Me in a post on her ZDNet blog (;post-2440) and points to the principle of “reasonable disclosure” as a guidepost and suggests that security is, by definition, inconvenient.

    I also agree that there is no apparent benefit to Foursquare other than the handful of places that award freebies to mayors. That doesn’t mean there will never be one though. I am confident that as LBS take off in 2010 Foursquare and services like it will innovate and increase in value in the same way social networks have over the past few years.

    One final comment, Ms. Leggio (again) wrote about the upside of checking in via Foursquare in situations where you want people to know where you are for safety reasons (;col1). Glenn Letham of LBSZone urged relief workers tweeting from Haiti to enable geotagging in case of emergency. Again, reasonable disclosure.

  • Dan Levine @schoolmarketer

    Mark, great post – really interested in the dissenting view on this. I just don’t understand the value (or interest) in letting others know where you are at all times. Internet safety is an enormous issue and a real concern for parents. While it would be nice to think that regulations will be put into place to make the internet safer for us and our children, it’s not something we should rely on. In the end I think the majority of the responsibility for internet safety for children rests with parents. The world changes and evolves and we, as parents, must evolve and change with it. We’ve all got to be vigilant and thoughtful — personal information is way too easy to find in 2010. Why make it easier for folks by taking a lax attitude towards it? Great post.

  • I think Cory hits on a fundamental issue with the knee-jerk reaction towards things we don’t understand. I mean we should understand it because we talk about it in ways that folks who aren’t savvy about the Internet would consider us “experts” – but we don’t. I stumble on this theme repeatedly, whether its vetting certain sites, code, people or their ideas. It is competing for our attention just as much as every other factoid that is introduced to us in haste. And it is partly because of our rush into using it to claim our foothold on relevance that comes in the way of our understanding it fully. When the fool’s rush in, the results are very often similar – we become so infatuated with the social toys that there isn’t a trace of deductive reasoning left in the remnants of a blown mind to be objective about any of it.

    To say nothing of the way personal details could be used in ways we might not be educated enough to ever anticipate. With email, not so much anymore, but I still get those unnerving phone calls from people probing, asking questions that force me to react in a guarded manner – in ways reminiscent of how I used to watch people covering their badges before entering into a trade show or convention booth.

    This reaction almost always leads the conversation toward the path of “regulation” or “control”, and this is where I can’t help but crack a cynics smile. Private interests and government are not where I see any kind of solution – EVER – forming on the subject of net neutrality. IMHO, the solution lies somewhere in our responsibility to keep our slavish infatuation with social toys in check to retain some semblance of objectivity, and “check” should allow us to move towards a more common sense approach that either puts our stamp of approval on it, or prudently avoids anything that we feel crosses the line. Put your vote on the “social” in the toys with which we tinker – it really is that simple.

    And while I applaud parents that take an active part in teaching their kids about the dangers of the Internet, there is a much bigger battle being waged by the culture war, and this is where parents need to spend the most time instilling the kind of values which can be used interchangeably to chart not only the online waters, but those of everyday life.


  • Mark

    @ Joseph — I am so delighted to have your intelligent views back on the {grow} scene! We’ve missed you!

    I highly respect your perspective but take issue with your comment: “Put your vote on the “social” in the toys with which we tinker – it really is that simple.”

    I don’t think it is that simple for two reasons.

    1) You’re assuming a person has the maturity and judgment to make that decision. Kids don’t. So there must be some intelligent buffer between them and harm’s way. Hopefully that’s a parent but in many cases i doubt it.

    2) I heed freedom’s call on Internet freedom but I draw the line when something endangers innocents. An example would be child pornography. Some purists might say, freedom to all and if you don’t want to be involved, don’t put your “stamp” on it. Obviously it’s not that simple. There are areas where laws exist, and appropriately so.

    I predict that social media utilities, and those who abuse them, will cross a line that endangers children. I don’t see how it can be avoided. When that happens there will be a call for legislation because people cannot and will not self-regulate on the social web.

    I hope I’m completely wrong, by the way.

  • Mark

    @Jody — I share your same concerns on personal safety.

    @Dan I hope there will be more dissension too. Apps like Foursquare are so popular, there must be an angle I’m missing.

  • Mark

    @Andrew Sorry for delay in responding. Your comment was stuck because the of the links within your message. These are very helpful references. I’m so appreciative that you passed these along!

  • Mark, I hate to say this to you but this is likely the most important message you’ve delivered. It’s not that the others aren’t important in their own right but they’re not “life and death”. This one is and people need to get the message; not only the users, but the marketers and social media “guru’s” that are putting this kind of stuff out there. This includes the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Google and all the rest. This is such an exciting new domain and the creators of these products are too busy building things to help make them money while basic fundamental principles of security, privacy and moral responsibility sometimes are forgotten. Basic principles that came of age in the earlier days of ecommerce are sometimes (all too frequently) ignored.

    As professionals, we have an obligation to protect our customers (sometimes from themselves) from those lurking with the intent to do them harm. They may not be aware of it simply because of their naivety but we most certainly are and should be paying attention.

    I totally agree with all of those who have said we must ensure our families are taking the correct actions to ensure their protection but the industry “pros” should be as well. They are the leaders who are leading our children (an often ourselves) down this rather treacherous path.

  • Mark

    @Steve That means a lot — thanks!

  • Pingback: Social Media Storytelling Marketing PR Curated Stories Mar. 2, 2010()

  • If things go like they usually go, first there will be a case of serious crime enabled by a geolocation service, then there’s going to be a backlash in the form of hysterical media coverage and, eventually, some kind of government interference.

    To avoid extremes, I think it is in every web user’s interest to keep privacy issues somehow active in their minds all the time they (OK, we) are active online. Including our children.

    To Cory I would say that I’d much rather be a random victim of crime by keeping my wallet out of sight than a targeted victim of crime by letting a wad of money stick out of my back pocket.

  • I’ve thought about this quite a bit as my own use of sites like Twitter and Foursquare, and even Facebook, have grown over the last 18 months or so. I don’t have kids of my own, but as I’ve begun traveling more and more I’ve often thought about the trail I’m leaving as I mention I’m here or there. As a adolescent/teenager, I’m CERTAIN I wouldn’t have thought of this.

    Heather Elias, a real estate blogger in Loudon County VA, just wrote about this in regards to her own children –

    There’s a real value to many of these sites from not only a social perspective but also a business perspective, but a balance has yet to be had. Thanks for reaffirming some of the risks.

  • Mark

    @Jeremy Your genuine and personal experience is appreciated. Thanks so much for sharing and also for providing this interesting link to the rest of the community.

    @Kimmo — Nice analogy, Thanks!

  • @RaynaNYC

    Hey Mark. You’re such a great voice of reason and your observations are very astute on this topic. As our worlds get ever more interconnected new rules need to be added to traditional common sense for safety. Our personal breadcrumb trails exist on so many websites and in a multitude of db and now offline at real locations –shouldn’t leave one’s safety to chance. I agree with the comments made and would add as a devoted member of the social community, we should try to keep reminding real & virtual friends about protecting their privacy in their use of social media (perhaps even Twitter & Foursquare might take this up as their own PSAs). When i think about generational behaviours, I am reminded about when I was younger and first started with the old online communities and boards in early 90s, but the risks are greater now. As a devoted Aunt, trying to teach some lessons to nephews who are active online. Our rule is an adult has to set up the registration, needs to unlock the computer for use, try to keep an eye out, but after that, vital that we teach them rules of the road (online and off) to keep them safe. Safe travels all.

  • Mark

    @Rayna — I agree with you and others that we need to teach the young ones and provide some buffer of protection. Thanks for sharing such a well-written and wise comment!

  • I am gonna be a naysayer here.

    Maybe the next generation is a lot smarter than us? Did I say maybe? No, they ARE a lot smarter than us – especially when it comes to the Net.

    And the real danger to most kids ain’t the net and meeting some weirdo, it is most likely a close friend or a weird family member. So net savvy does not make em safer. Or maybe it does? Maybe the net will urge a kid to talk about someone close to them weirdin them out?

    I thought about a post on this topic after reading a few Tweets from slushy young girls who were posting alluring pics and saying where they were going to be going partying. Well, notwithstanding these are all good leads (That was a joke BTW!) it is really none of my damn business what anyone does.

    The idea of folks being in danger over the net is a wee bit of The Sky is Falling. Yep shit happens, as we are humans nasty stuff has happened for centuries, mind you according to stats I have seen – nasty stuff is happening WAY less than it ever has. We are a lot safer than we have ever been. The media just like to talk about this stuff and get us all in a frenzy (It really sells ads!)

    No, I believe the kids are fine. I think the boogie man is not an issue.

    I think instead of worrying about what the kids do or not do, or will they be kidnapped – we should be worrying what the hell we will talk to them about to when all the kids who are online!

    (That’s a Cluetrain thing!)

  • You engender some salient points, Mark. The site was actually started by a couple of fellows (their names escape me, as do most of the activities of my day, secondary to age-related dementia) whose intent was to indicate to people precisely what you have stated. I am currently working on a blog which will cover some of these points, and would like to quote you, with your kind permission. As usual, an excellent post.

  • Mark

    Of course, that would be fine!

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