Technology: Brands warned over privacy

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.

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 led the roll-out of Debenhams and the FT on Foursquare, said these spats merely illustrated the rapid advancement 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.

However, 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 is not taking child safety seriously.

'Brands should think very carefully about whether they are 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.

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