Wednesday, July 28, 2010

FourSquare Stalking?

While having a stranger stalk you online, call the maitre d’ of the restaurant where you’re dining with friends, and request to speak with you to ask you out on a date may sound like another vapid plot of a Hollywood popcorn-chomper, apparently it actually happened to a Foursquare user.

For those unfamiliar, Foursquare is a service that allows you to publish your current location (“Chris is at Starbucks @ 34th & Walnut”) to the Web. One can accrue various titles of nobility (“mayor”) for locations he visits frequently or accumulate digital objets d’art (“badges”) for accomplishing tasks, such as going to multiple bars in a single night . The basic idea is that you can affiliate yourself with the establishments you frequent, and locate friends who happen to be at the same place at the same time. I’ve used it before, and it’s really nothing remarkable. For one, who needs another location-aware, Twitter progeny? And, at the risk of sounding like an another privacy alarmist, the app is really nothing more than a shallow diversion while your personal information is being harvested and used for ad research – Farmville, anyone? (“throw this sheep at someone while we access your profile.”).

That said, if we were going to argue the privacy concerns of Foursquare, I would call Staw Man given the story above as evidence for FS' dangers to privacy. I would be way more worried about location information being subpoenaed without proper authorization than I would about being stalked by Alicia Silverstone a la The Crush (OK, showing my age there).

But that’s not to say that the story isn’t horrifying. In fact, the reason I’m posting it is because of the emotion reading the piece elicited. Ms. Sylvia does an excellent job of drawing the reader into her place – especially with details like her looking around the restaurant to see if anyone is holding a cell phone as she stammers on the phone with her stalker. The fact this it’s a true story and no suspension of disbelief is necessary to appreciate it, makes it all the more fascinating. While I'm sorry that this happened to her, the piece is definitely worth a read for literary value.

Perhaps I’ll use this piece in my class in the fall. I’ll be interested to see if the students would call this account a reason to avoid location-aware technologies.

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