Just “Checking-In” — Are We Taking LBS Privacy & Security Risks Seriously?

The impact of check-in services, like Foursquare, on personal privacy and security is yet again making top headlines. If you remember our most recent bug battle (The Check-In Challenge), more than 80% of respondents responded “Yes” when asked if they were concerned about how location-based services (LBS) could impact their personal privacy and safety. And 49% chose “privacy/security concerns” as the top reason they don’t use check-in services more often.

Yesterday, the security company WebRoot came out with a study discovering similar results. After surveying 1,500+ social network users with geolocation-ready mobile devices, WebRoot found that more than half (55%) of respondents fear the loss of security and privacy, and 45% are very concerned about letting potential burglars know when they’re away from home (ah yes, the now shut down PleaseRobMe experiment comes to mind).

What’s most interesting to us is that 39% of those surveyed by Webroot said they use geolocation services, but take a look at the number of people that have fallen prey to social network cyber-criminals:

  • Nearly a quarter of respondents (22.4 percent) were victims of a phishing attempt to steal their social network password.
  • About one in six (16 percent) reported a malware infection in the past year that originated from a social networking site.
  • One in nine reported at least one of their social network accounts had been compromised or hijacked.

Even in the face of these risks, many consumers admitted to engaging in risky behaviors:

  • Nearly one third (31 percent) accepted a friend request from a stranger.
  • A majority (76 percent) clicked a link sent or posted by a friend on a social network site.
  • Twenty-nine percent have shared their geolocation with people other than their friends.
  • One in nine used a location-based tool to meet a stranger (e.g. check out Scout – the new dating LB app)

While we all get excited when new features (like geo-lo) are added to Twitter, Facebook and other social networks (I know I do!), it’s worth taking a step back and thinking about the potential dangers of giving away so much personal information. So, why do you check-in? What do you see as the primary motivators for doing so? Are they worth the risks?

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