(If Emily Posted is officially moving to Friday, but I didn’t want to wait until Friday to share this. And please, share this.)

About a year ago, I was explaining to a friend, a fellow writer, why I wasn’t interested in joining Foursquare. It wasn’t about people robbing me while I grabbed a tea at Coffee Bean that worried me, but it had to do with the fact that I like to control my online privacy because as a freelancer, people I work with are in my social networks.

Ask any writer and they will tell you the method to their madness. For very few, the methods are the same. I tend to write a lot at night, and always have. So from 9-5 there’s always a chance I’m out doing things.

I’m proud of the fact I’ve never missed a deadline or failed to deliver a project to a client, but I don’t ever want someone worried that I seem to be everywhere but at my desk when a deadline is looming.

If I checked in somewhere every time I ate, shopped or went to a movie, I think it would look bad for business. Let people judge me on the quality of my work rather than the fact I’m at Bed, Bath and Beyond on a Tuesday afternoon with a 7pm deadline.

On the flip, I once had a colleague I couldn’t reach by phone or email for days. Days. I did the bulk of a project we were supposed to do together. The whole time the person was unreachable, they were posting photos and status updates about eating at great restaurants and heading to the beach. I ended up deleting them from my Facebook feed because it was making me furious. Needless to say, we didn’t collaborate again after that.

(I see this sort of stuff all the time. People, really, think about the excuses you make before you decide to tweet, Instagram and FB post your day away.)

Last month I finally signed up for Foursquare, if only because I like to know what I’m talking about. And about sixteen seconds later I saw a tweet about this app called Girls All Around Me that used the data collected by Foursquare and Facebook to track where we girls were and when. Chivalry at it’s douchiest.

Thanks to John Brownlee at Cult of Mac who started writing about it, and then interviewed the developers who dug an even deeper hole by explaining that it wasn’t creepy because they were simply making sure guys could make sure they went where only pretty women were (vomit), it was pulled for the Apple App Store. And then Foursquare revoked use of their API and the app collapsed. And from what I gather Facebook never really got back to him on the subject. At first I was really happy with Foursquare (and annoyed with Facebook) until Cult of Mac reminded me that Foursquare doesn’t care if the app was tasteless, they simply wanted to stop the chatter about privacy issues. Bronwlee is spot on when he writes that this wasn’t altruistic, it was about damage control. Chivalry fails again.

In the same way people say we need to give up our IP rights if we want to post things online, I really liked his analogy about why we need to stop blaming the user in these situations, comparing apps like that to a dark alley by neighboring bars where women are attacked:

“How long until you stop saying it’s the women’s fault for being stupid or careless enough to be victims, and start parceling out some of the blame to the two bars that don’t care enough to install a street light to keep that alley well-lit?”

As I say about Pinterest and other sites, developers need to educate their users. They need to offer tools along with the toys. They need to take responsibility for what they put out there.

I’m not afraid that my whereabouts will cause me harm or that a crappy photo of me will be tagged on Facebook, but I’m sick of this mentality that we must opt-out rather than opt-in to everything.

Please use all the geotagging features however you’d like, but make them work for you, not you for them.

Silver lining: Cult of Mac’s Charlie Sorrel did this follow-up post to make sure users understand Facebook, iPhone/iPad and Foursquare privacy settings and how to opt-out if one chooses. Because even if you don’t realize it, you’ve opted into a lot already.

John and Charlie, you’re internet knights in shining armor. Thanks for doing what you do.


2 thoughts on “If Emily Posted – On Foursquare, Facebook and Privacy

  1. Morgan (The818)

    I was so disturbed, with FB devouring Instagram yesterday, that so many people seemed to think that online privacy was a lost battle. So many were rolling over saying “well, they already own everything we do anyway” rather than demanding that Facebook and friends respect our right to privacy and at least the illusion of control over our online presence. You’re so right when you say we should have to opt-in rather than opt-out. It’s a growing beast of an issue and I’m so glad you’re tackling it.

    1. alexandra Post author

      I think it’s all about educating the user. I have no issue with granting certain OKs to Instagram, FB, etc. to use my content in ways that help them monetize – it’s all about business and we’re getting these services for free, right? But there has to be a change in this mentality that if you put it online it by default belongs to everyone. And people perpetuate the lies buy believing them.

      People need to start taking an active role in understanding what they use. The Foursquare/Facebook thing hit it on the head – let’s hush up this privacy talk before they start getting ideas. Before they start reading what they agreed to.


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