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Privacy & Data

Over-sharing and Location Awareness

The following is a guest blog post provided by Frank Groeneveld, Barry Borsboom and Boy van Amstel.  They are the creators of, a website that uses Twitter's search functionality to show location-based messages. Their goal is to raise awareness about the potential risks of location-awareness and over-sharing.  The opinions here are theirs only and do not necessarily represent those of CDT.
Over the last few years the consensus about privacy on the Internet seems to have changed a lot. A few years ago, people were still hesitant about using their real names online, but nowadays people are comfortable sharing their exact location with the whole world.
Where does this change in consensus come from? Are people starting to feel too comfortable? We're not sure, but over-sharing might result in more risk and unintended consequence than one might think, especially in the long run.
The issue with location-based information is that it exposes another layer of personal information that, frankly, we haven't had to think much about: our exact physical location at anytime, anywhere. If you're comfortable being a human homing beacon, that's fine, we just want you to be fully aware of what that means and the potential risks it might involve.
Social networks have increased enormously in size and number. Most of them allow you to relay messages between different sites and it's easy to lose track of just how much information you might be giving away and how many people have free access to it.. These new technologies make it increasingly easy to share potentially sensitive personal information, like your exact location. People might be over-sharing without knowing about it. For example, you might relay your Foursquare location to your public Twitter account and by doing this expose the message to the whole world (Twitter: "Our default is almost always to make the information you provide public").
Most social networks have good search functionalities. People use such search features to find their friends or things they might be interested in. However, this means others can find them and their information as well. It's important to be aware of privacy settings, to control the reach your messages have. If you allow your messages to travel between different social networks, this becomes more complicated. Information you trust to your friends might end up somewhere else.
The rate at which new technology develops allows us to do more amazing stuff every day. It's important to reconsider basic things like privacy at the same pace.