What advice can I give my students about location services?
Young people are increasingly looking for ways to enhance their online experience. Location services – where they use their computer, mobile or other portable Web-enabled device, such as a games console or laptop, to share their physical location with their online friends and find out where their friends are – is one way of doing this.
By their nature, location services encourage people to ‘open up’, no longer just revealing things like ‘who you are; and ‘what you like’ but ‘where you are’. With 69 per cent of 13-17 year olds saying they have posted their physical location on their social networking profile (Source: McAfee, June 2010), it’s further proof of the importance of media literacy education.
Popular location services include Foursquare and Facebook Places, which enable users to easily share their physical location with their Twitter and Facebook friends.
Whilst location services have many benefits (eg finding the nearest cash point), child safety experts point out that they could pose challenges and risks, such as:
- If a young person reveals their physical location to their online friends (some of whom they might not have met in person), they could be tracked and contacted in real life by strangers, bullies and other people. If they regularly share the same locations, it wouldn’t be difficult for someone to work out where they live or go to school, for example
- Local businesses that use location information could target them with age-inappropriate adverts
Although location services have varying minimum age limits (some are 13, others are 18), young people might ignore them. Research by UK regulator Ofcom reveals that children often bypass age limits on social networking websites – they might do the same with location services.
It’s therefore vital that you talk to your students about how to minimise these potential risks:
- Encourage them to respect minimum age limits that are there to help protect them from inappropriate content and services
- Reiterate that the internet is a public place and that not everyone is who they say they are – young people should only accept friend requests from people they know in real life so that they’ don’t share personal information with strangers
- Show them how to make the most of built-in privacy settings, such as those offered by Facebook Places
- Make sure that their parents are also aware of this new trend
Where can I find more information?