Normally, each week we'd reserve this space for some awesome mobile app or cool Web site that would help improve your mobile experience. This week, instead of an app, we have a question: Are we, as a society, over-sharing?
When skimming over new apps to use for this column the last few weeks, we notice a trend that has been coming for a long time. In virtually every social app and Web site, there is now a component that lets users share their whereabouts. Using services like Foursquare, Gowalla and Loopt, you can literally see where your friends are right this second. If they aren't posting, you can send them a message and ask.
We started wondering: Is this too much?
Sharing your pictures and thoughts, even if either of those fell on the uncomfortable side of appropriate, seemed a very logical extension of the Internet. It's something that people have been doing in one form or another since long before the computer existed, let alone the Web.
When the more social aspects of sharing this information came on the scene with blogs and early social networking Web sites, some balked at potential privacy issues, but most of us realized that risk was based predominantly on self-control. Granted, the lack of ability to self-edit has stirred up quite a bit of trouble for those who don't think twice before pressing send, but our guess is those same people would find a way to do that with or without technology.
However, this ability to pinpoint the location of people down to the square foot feels like an invasion whether they opt to provide that information themselves or not. A number of apps and Web sites require that their users be smart enough to figure out privacy settings designed by engineers who, for whatever reason, seem intent on making that process overly complicated.
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A few weeks ago, we reviewed Waze, a real-time, crowdsourced traffic app that is as handy as it is creepy. In fact, we compared it to "playing with a road version of Harry Potter's Marauder's Map." There is literally a list of users marked on maps moving around in traffic.
Facebook has run afoul of privacy guardians on numerous occasions with their frequent changes to privacy policies, opening up of user information to sponsors and, most recently, talk of a facial recognition software coming to the site for use with tagging photos.
We can't be the first people to think that this will be a haven for stalkers. Imagine a weird guy with a smart phone snapping a picture of a cute girl in line at the coffee shop and dropping her photo onto Facebook to see if it recognizes her. If she is young and technologically savvy, maybe he can find her on Foursquare and show up at events where she is. If cyber-stalking was bad before, it just went into hyperdrive.
Hair Balls embraces technology, but we also grew up in an era before cell phones and even before call waiting. Anyone remember busy signals? When you were out of the loop, you were seriously out of the loop. With social networking technology today, depending on your approach, you might as well be in The Matrix and that can't be good for anybody.