News exposes security dangers in location-based app boom

Just who is watching you? exposes security dangers in location-based app boom
It's a story that seems ripe for 'dangers of the internet' style tabloid coverage, but a new website that makes use of data generated by location-based social apps could well have highlighted one of the pitfalls of this relatively new genre.

The appropriately titled collates posts published on social networks such as Twitter automatically generated by location-based apps like Foursquare.

The site lists entries by users who have checked-in at locations supported by the app, therefore signifying that they're out of the house.

Though not advocating crime, its creators say the site helps draws attention to the vulnerability created when one social network is linked to another.

"The website is not a tool for burglary. The point we're getting at is that not long ago it was questionable to share your full name on the internet. We've gone past that point by 1000 miles," Boy Van Amstel, one of the site's developers, told the BBC.

"It's basically a Twitter search - nothing new. Anyone who can do HTML and javascript can do this. You could almost laugh at how easy it is. Details posted online are available for the world to see; you wouldn't hang a sign on your door saying you're out, so why would you post it online?"

In truth, the likelihood of any criminals using such a set-up to actively partake in burglary is remote, but it does raise the wider question of whether the methods apps such as Foursquare use to link-up with wide-reaching social networks are water tight.

Though Foursquare itself requires you to approve any friend requests - therefore helping you manage just who can and cannot see where you've checked-in - it also encourages you to link the app to Twitter and Facebook. Foursquare can then be instructed to post updates on said networks that detail your movements.

The vast majority of Twitter users have their account open to all. Not only does this mean that friends and strangers alike can follow their feed, but it also results in posts showing up on search engines.

In theory, almost anyone could gain an insight into the daily movements of each and every Foursquare user that happens to have this particular set-up.

Prospective burglaries aside, our willingness to embrace genuinely progressive location-based apps isn't likely to die down anytime soon. But, without deconstructing them entirely, the companies behind them may well have to build in signposted safeguards to ensure we don't share just that little bit too much with the rest of the world.


With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.