Geolocation tools -- applications that broadcast the physical location of consumers when they’re online -- are the latest innovation in social media. Twitter recently rolled out its location-based features, and Facebook is expected to follow suit. But according to new research commissioned by Webroot, a leading provider of Internet security for the consumer, enterprise and SMB markets, the growing popularity of these applications does not come without concerns.
Webroot surveyed more than 1,500 social network users who own geolocation-ready mobile devices and found that although 39% indicated to using geolocation on their mobile devices, many expressed concerns over security and privacy. In addition, a surprising number engaged in behaviors that could put themselves and their private information at risk. Among the key findings:
- More than half (55 percent) of those that use geolocation tools are worried about their loss of privacy.
- Nearly half (45 percent) are very concerned about letting potential burglars know when they’re away from home.
- 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 (digitally or in person).
As location-based applications continue to gain popularity, we should all be increasingly aware of what cyber-criminals can do with the huge amount of personal data that is being shared by everyone on the Web," said Jeff Horne, Director of Threat Research at Webroot. "People often get excited about the new features available on social networks and forget about the power of the Internet and the amount of valuable information they give away through the simple act of updating their status and ‘checking-in’ at their current location.
Summary of additional findings:
The Webroot survey uncovered that a significant number of people have fallen prey to criminals who target social network users for attack:
- 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.
Yet even in the face of these risks, many consumers have still developed some bad habits:
- 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.
Age and gender seem to play a role in levels of concern with the location-based tools:
- 27 percent of young adult males (aged 18 to 29) share a location with friends daily, and 10 percent check in daily when they arrive at a location
- Women are more worried about the risks associated with geolocation tools; 49 percent are highly concerned about letting a stalker know where they are, whereas only 32 percent of men expressed concern.
- Older mobile device owners (40 and up) are more concerned about the possible risks compared to 18- to 39-year-olds.
The primary motivations for using geolocation applications are to get informed (67 percent) and to meet up with friends (43 percent). Other top uses of geolocation tools include;
- 13.9 percent do it to meet new people
- 8.7 percent say they use these tools for competitive games
What Can Users Do?
To help consumers understand and protect themselves from the implications of sharing information via location-based applications, Webroot has provided the following tips as a guideline for safer social networking:
Be aware of your Smartphone settings - To keep your personal whereabouts private, turn off the "locate me" feature on your iPhone, or the GPS photo-tagging feature found on most Smartphones. When enabled, this feature allows your phone to store GPS data within your pictures. Thus every time you take a picture and upload it to a social network or other Web site, the photo contains GPS data that can pinpoint your location.
Never post anything you wouldn't want the world to see - Even with privacy settings enabled, social network sites themselves make mistakes and sometimes accidentally make information marked private available to anyone. As a rule of thumb, only post photos or messages that you wouldn't mind your boss, parent, or any stranger to see or read.
Make personal information private - Protect yourself by updating privacy settings on your profile to restrict or omit access to any personal data. Users of popular geolocation services that allow you to share where you are should be especially careful to disclose your location only to specific people, and to nobody else.
Don't be the first to click a link - When a friend posts a link to a Web site on their profile or wall, and you've never been to that Web site before, wait a few hours before you click. Being the first to follow a link can lead to being the next victim of a social network worm.
Read between the lines - Familiarize yourself with the social networks’ privacy options to ensure you’re taking advantage of any enhanced security features.
Be exclusive - Only accept friend requests, emails and site links from people you know. Even then, be selective about who you "friend" and what you open or click, especially from people you don't know.
About the Research
Between June 7, 2010, and June 8, 2010, Webroot sponsored an online survey of Internet users in the United States and the United Kingdom. The panel management company e-Rewards invited panel members who own a mobile Internet device, use geolocation features on one or more mobile devices, and have a social network profile that they access monthly or more often to participate in the study. With a total of 1,645 respondents, the margin of error is ±2.4 percentage points.