Location-based social network apps boom, and privacy issues

Increasing numbers of people are revealing their exact location on the internet or being tracked via geolocation applications installed onto their mobile devices, increasing their chances of being targeted by internet security attacks, according to new research commissioned by Webroot, a provider of internet security software for the consumer, enterprise and SMB markets.

Surveying more than 1,500 social network users who own geolocation-ready mobile devices, Webroot found that 39% indicated to using geolocation on their mobile devices, and 73% of those use a geo-tracking application to do so. Among those, more than a quarter used location-based services to share their whereabouts with strangers, and 14% used a service to meet new people.

Of the UK respondents, Google Latitude (32%) was the most commonly used geo-location tool, followed by Yahoo’s Flickr (25%), Google Buzz (20%) and Twitter Location (18%). Other rapidly growing location-based services such as Foursquare and Gowalla encourage users to share their current locations by ’checking-in’, and in return they are rewarded by earning points or they receive discounts offered by nearby retailers.

Jeff Horne, director of threat research, Webroot, said: “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. 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.”

In the UK, the smartphone is the consumer’s mobile device of choice. Altogether, 76% of UK respondents indicated that they own a smartphone, which includes Android, Blackberry, iPhone, Nokia and Windows Mobile phones. Almost all (94%) of smartphone owners use geolocation applications. More than half of the UK’s smartphone and mobile device users access the internet several times a day (53%).

The ability to share personal information online with a number of people via social networking sites is getting easier and easier, due to the increased use of the internet on mobile devices. The way in which this information is now presented online as a geographical destination is a cause for concern for many individuals: 52% of UK respondents tag their whereabouts in a photograph online, thus revealing their location in an instant; In the last year, 30% of UK respondents have shared their geographical location with people other than their friends.

Also: One in 11 respondents have used geolocation applications to meet a stranger, either digitally or in person, predominantly within the 18-29 age group; 52% of UK respondents are very or extremely concerned about loss of personal privacy as a result of using geolocation applications; 41% are aware and very or extremely concerned of letting potential burglars know when they are not at home; Women are particularly concerned about the risks associated with geolocation; In the UK, 46% of women are highly concerned about letting a stalker know where they are, compared to only 27% of men.

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