Friday, August 20, 2010

Why Foursquare, Gowalla, and Facebook Places keep me up nights

I went to the mall today (I took a day off) and was generally horrified by the experience on many levels. There were so many overly fragrant smells that my allergies clicked into full gear. The whole experience was made more strange by the fact that the mall's general sound system was playing some sort of ambient music that made me feel like I was an extra walking around in a movie. But what really bothered me...what really stuck with that I saw two little boys playing on one of those little toy car rides. Neither could have been much over 8. And they were completely unattended. Now I am not a parent. I do understand that 2 young boys can be quite a handful when you are trying to shop. But I can't really think of a good reason to find this acceptable.

Paranoid Android

I had always been really sensitive to the "stranger danger" approach. My parents trained me very well. Even so, in fifth grade, I was left unattended on a field trip to a nursing home (we had to "adopt" grandparents for class) and the son of my "grandmother" took me to see the nursing home chapel. No harm came to me, but when I related the story to my mom, you can imagine her response. It ended okay for me. It easily could have been otherwise. I wasn't a dumb kid. I just felt secure and didn't give it a second's thought.

Then, in 2004, I saw something that drew even more attention about the dangers for children out there. I was watching the news and saw a video of a young girl named Carlie Brucia actually being led off by the man who would eventually kill her. Conversations sprang up everywhere. Did she know the man from a chatroom? Look at all of the other kids who were being kidnapped by people whom they thought they knew through the online world. Spotlight on.

Fast Forward to Now

About a year ago, I guess, I started seeing Foursquare updates. As I learned more about it through my job in marketing, I had red alarms flashing on and off in my head. Then I saw foursquare updates showing up in my Twitter stream. And now, this week, there is the news about Facebook Places.

Now, as a friend of mine would say, I don't want to be a Debbie Downer here. I am all in favor of continuing to advance new technologies, and the marketer in me sometimes drools at the thought of what geo-location technology could mean for companies. But...

I have an 8-year-old cousin who knows how to text. Kids younger than that are getting on the web to play Webkins. Kids are growing up immersed with this stuff, and it's all part of the fabric of their lives. Who is making sure that they know about the dangers of the online world?

Not even ten years ago, the big danger was awful people who would go to chatrooms, befriend kids, lure the kids to a meeting place, and often the story would not end well. What I am finding so troublesome right now is that if a person wants to cause harm, all they have to do is go on Twitter and search for terms that would help them out. They don't have to have an account. They don't have to sign in. Even Facebook is searchable if accounts aren't locked down, and guess what? When I went into my account yesterday, all of the permissions were turned OFF for Facebook places. Are we making sure our kids and teens know about this stuff?

Maybe we could consider this before the first big tragedy happens.

You could say this all seems pretty obvious. Of course parents are going to monitor their kids' accounts. And I'm sure YOU would. But I saw two kids unattended at the mall today. Do you think those 2 boys are going to be educated about the dangers of things like Foursquare?

Think about it?

Image by Svilen Milev.

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