March 25, 2010— -- Social networking can be great. I use Facebook to connect with friends and I use my Twitter account to communicate with viewers about the technology and consumer stories I cover (by the way I am @bworley if you want to follow me).
The biggest trend in social networking right now is the addition of location-aware services that let your friends and total strangers know where you are in addition to what you are doing.
When you log onto the Internet, the unique address assigned to you as you get online roughly identifies your location and your cell phone's GPS has an even more accurate assessment of your location.
Twitter has just added a feature that lets you tie your location to any Tweet. The best intention of these is to create spontaneous interactions where two friends or likeminded people realize they are at the same social gathering.
If you tweet that you are sitting down for a cup of coffee at the Elm Street cafe and a friend happens to be walking by, you benefit from the impromptu meet-up. Many smartphone apps are solely intended to help you find friends who happen to be in the same location.
Another relative newcomer to this space is Foursquare.
This service lets you check in to restaurants, clubs and events to let people know where you are. You can show your support for an establishment (nice way of saying a bar) by frequenting the joint enough to become the mayor, where you may earn a free drink or just bragging rights that you are the king of the geeky regulars.
It also allows you to broadcast tips that may help other people tour the area and find good places to eat drink and be merry.
Dating services that pair profiles with location have gained some traction as singles move beyond Internet dating and want to merge the real world of a bar scene or party with the wildly popular profile scanning that dating sites provide.
If you know the people who are in your area and can check their profile before you text a proposed meeting, that seems like a good thing.
But here's the problem: Location-aware information sharing can accidentally share sensitive information you didn't want broadcast for the world to see.
Sites like pleaserobme.com have pointed out that telling your 1,200 closest Facebook friends you are going camping for the weekend can lead to a perfect opportunity for a burglar who is thrilled to know that your home will be empty for 48 hours.
It's hard to imagine a close friend stealing from you, but at one time more that 50 percent of identity-theft was perpetrated by someone that the victim knew. It's not a huge leap to imagine someone using information gathered on a social networking site to help perpetrate ID theft or worse.
If you forgot to turn off Twitter's location function and Tweeted from your home, it'd send out your home address, which would be public for the entire Internet to see.
And I guarantee that services like Foursquare that let everyone know where you are will cause someone to lose a job, lose a friend, or get in trouble with their spouse: "You couldn't pick up milk but you had time to check in on Foursquare from Leo's bar?"
It's important to note that you must manually opt in to these geographically aware services; Twitter does not default to sharing your location and Foursquare and most others mandate you open the application, and go through a series of clicks to have your location broadcast.
But in a world where I can't always remember to charge my phone's battery and finding my keys is a challenge, I can see myself oversharing something that will get me into trouble or worse, danger. For me, it's just not worth it.