Are location-based services worth the risk?

Blogs have been around, albeit in more primitive forms, for over a decade. Facebook first came on the scene in 2004. Twitter arrived in 2006. And even more recently, a new type of social media utility has become widespread, especially with the proliferation of web-capable smartphones: location-based services.

This genre of services operates based on your geographical location. It includes everything from smartphones encoding the pictures you take on it with metadata about your location to GPS-based smartphone applications that alert you to the traffic on your travel route to Foursquare (and Facebook Places), where you social network by checking in at certain locations and seeing who else is there with you.

These tools are increasing in popularity, and business marketers, particularly ones that target younger adults, are using them to reach their customers. But my father sent me an e-mail today with a power point deck from the U.S. Army illustrating the potential dangers of these tools. That e-mail begs the question: are location-based services worth the risks involved with using them?

If you upload photos from your smartphone to the web, you could be giving out information on your whereabouts to total strangers. Do it regularly and consistently enough, and a threatening individual could find out where you live or work or otherwise go, and you become an easier target.

These are very legitimate concerns. And I wish these tools had better safeguards to protect against these potential problems. But in spite of that, millions of people use these tools every day without incident. Like with anything, you need to be smart and use common sense, with maybe an added degree of caution. But I don’t think you need to avoid using these tools entirely.

What do you think? Are location-based services worth the risks involved? Should we use them at all?

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