There was an astounding amount of backlash against the Girls Around Me app, and rightfully so. The app developers argued that since they were using public information they weren’t doing anything wrong. Women were indeed sharing their locations publicly and weren’t practicing due diligence. But just because the information is out there, doesn’t mean it should be aggregated in such a sexist way.
Why is that app sexist and not just creepy? Because the developer explains that the purpose of the app was to find hot women around you. And here I thought it was just so you could avoid sausage fests.
This is where Foursquare drew the line and revoked access to their API. Girls Around Me attempted to shift the purpose of location sharing from innocuous check-ins to potential targets of stalking. Facebook’s reaction? They advised people to adjust their privacy settings.
Obviously app makers have some responsibility for protecting their users, but some of the burden is shouldered by users. People do care about privacy but I know they’re probably like me and can be lazy about policing it. There are essentially three options for location sharing:
a. Be extra diligent with privacy settings in the multitude of apps that you use, ensuring that settings are exactly what they should be and reviewing these settings any time the app developers makes changes.
b. Don’t post your location on the Internet, EVER
c. Use Glassboard and not worry about it. Only people that are members of a board can see your location.
We talk about privacy on this blog a lot. In fact, it’s probably the most oft-used word. However, I’d like to focus on a different word for this blog post. Creepy.
Location-based apps such as Highlight got a lot of attention at SXSW this year. They experienced explosive growth because uptake has very little friction. This is due in no small part to the fact that your location and information about you is readily exposed to those around you.
Speaking of exposed, this post from PCWorld even goes so far as to state that Highlight is “like the ‘ChatRoulette’ of iOS Apps.” It even includes a cringe-worthy screen-grab (don’t worry, it’s not a wang).
This other item posted on CNN rates the creepiness of a handful of location-based apps. Is that what we’ve come to now? Choosing a social networking app because it’s slightly less creepy than another one?
I’m proud to say that we built Glassboard as non-creepy as possible. In fact, there is no element of discovery whatsoever in the app. If you’re on it, I have no idea. We have to actually interact first. Isn’t that amazing?
Like many others, we all watched the Apple announcement today with bated breath. The rumor mill was as aggregious as ever in the weeks preceding the event, which is always entertaining. Would they announce the iPhone 5? Would they respond somehow to the Kindle Fire? Can Tim Cook fill Job’s shoes?
And admittedly, we also watched with nervous anticipation for the new features – if a company like Apple/Google/Facebook decides they want to do what were doing? Well, let’s just say that many times it has less than desired consequences. “Sherlocked” they call it….
So when the Allthingsd.com live blog started referencing a ‘new app that would allow you to find your friends’ I have to admit my stomach dropped a bit. One of the stories we’re trying to solve with Glassboard is exactly that (we’ve talked about it before here and here)- helping you locate your friends/co-workers/families when you’re out and about, and providing easy integration with your maps app so you can find them.
But then Mr Cue mentioned that it was a separate, distinct app like Loopt, Google Latitude or Glympse. And it was iPhone only. I suddenly felt my shoulders relax, and the color come back into my face. We love the location story. Its one of those use cases that is such a no-brainer when it comes to mobile. But having said that, location is a feature, not an app. Location works best as a part of your social experience, integrated where it makes sense and controled within the context of the experience. And it needs to be cross platform, not just for iPhone. I think Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb said it best, “The time for siloed, single-vendor, location sharing apps has passed.”
In Glassboard, you choose whether to add your location as part of each message you send. If it makes sense to add your location, then you do it. It shows where you are to everyone on the board where you are at that point in time, and it works in all of our clients. Glassboard doesn’t track you, your location simply added like any other attachement – like a picture or video. It really doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.
So i’m glad to see that Apple is giving some attention to location. Its great to see them promote and educate people to the benefits of knowing the location of your friends & co-workers at certain times. Ultimately it will help people appreciate how we use location in Glassboard as well.
There is an interesting tradeoff between location data and privacy today. On one hand, location delivers fantastic benefits in the form of connections with friends, or (to some) coupons for nearby businesses. On the other hand, your location is hugely sensitive and personal, and can be easily abused. Location not only tells people where you are, but almost more importantly, also tells people where you aren’t.
In the social app world, location data is a relative newcomer; social app developers and their users are still learning what it means to expose and exploit this data online in a social context. There are lots of ways to play with location data, including: knowing where your friends are (google latitude, loopt); getting mayorships for frequent checkins (foursquare, gowalla); or simply telling people where you are when you share something new (twitter, G+, Facebook). In almost all of these cases, the presumption is that users want others to be able to discover where they are. Location is being used in a very public context, and that’s not always in the best interest of the user.
What hasn’t been tested broadly is the point where your location service stops being a clever, helpful piece of information and turns into a creepy, big-brother-esque stalking service. Will location be included in our credit card transactions as a fraud prevention measure? Will we ever get so numb that we allow companies to aggregate our positions & our social graph and sell that data to marketers? I shudder to think of a text message on my phone, “Hey, get 20% off at the sub shoppe you’re walking by right now! Its lunchtime, right? Aren’t you hungry? Your friend Brian ate here yesterday and gave the BLT 4 stars”.
I hope it doesn’t come to that. When we were putting together the location services for Glassboard, we were extremely sensitive to the end user and their choice to include their location. We appreciate the need to use location only when its appropriate, and to make it easy to not use it when its not.
As a result, we’ve put a location switch on the compose screen for each message or comment, so the user will have full control in its use, message by message. And when you add your location, its not only private to that board, but its specific to that moment in time. Glassboard does not track your position over time, and no one else will have access to this information.
Here’s a video that shows specifically how we’ve integrated location into Glassboard. We feel like this is the right balance – allowing people to chose whether to add location to a message or not, so they can maintain tight controls over such a sensitive piece of information.