Digital PR specialist urges caution over social networks disclosing locations of users

Digital PR specialists have warned brands to tread carefully amid privacy concerns over new social networking sites that disclose the exact location of the user.

Privacy concerns: Foursquare
Privacy concerns: Foursquare

Chief among these websites is free mobile and web application Foursquare, in which people can ‘check in' to a variety of locations, including shops and homes, in return for points and rewards.

A mock website called ‘PleaseRobMe' launched last week listing empty homes, based on user updates on Foursquare, Gowalla, Brightkite and Twitter. The site prompted Foursquare to dismiss the concerns on its blog.

33 Digital MD Drew Benvie, who has led the roll-out of both Debenhams and the FT on Foursquare, said these spats merely illustrated the rapid advance of social networking technology.

‘It's just that technology is getting to such an advanced state that you can see where people are,' said Benvie.

But Carrot Communications partner Kate Hartley said Foursquare's appeal to brands could be tarnished by a lax approach that allows children as young as 13 to use the site.

‘That's a massive concern, in my view,' said Hartley. ‘No brand wants to be involved with a site that isn't taking child safety seriously. Brands should think very carefully about whether they're encouraging young children to broadcast personally identifiable information that could endanger the child, and risk the brand's reputation.'

Other UK brands with an active presence on Foursquare include Domino's Pizza and smaller stores such as coffee shop Dose Espresso. Foursquare users are typically offered product rewards for visiting these stores frequently.

Much of this activity, meanwhile, has been led by digital PR agencies. ‘It's direct engagement with your audiences and I think it's helping PR take a step into the broader marketing mix,' said Benvie.



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