A report in today's (Feb. 11) Guardian warned of a software program developed by U.S. defense contractor Raytheon. Dubbed "Google for Spies," the company's RIOT software can pull together data shared across social media networks, including location information.
The result? A detailed picture of a person's life and a tool to track individuals and predict their future behavior. While all this sounds pretty scary, the amount of data such programs could collect is in the control of people using social networks, not the government.
The software searches an individual's Foursquare check-ins and Facebook and Twitter postings that embed geolocation data — information that the user has already made public. People search services such as Spokeo and Pipl, which mine public records as well as social networks, are even more intrusive than RIOT.
The surge in location-based apps has increased concerns about privacy because these apps offer real-time data to anyone who happens to monitor a person's check-ins. Foursquare is not the only location-based service people use to broadcast their locations to friends in their networks. And other apps could expand the audience for such information. For example, Loci.st, a new app for iPhone and Android from OneHackMind, could provide location data to a much wider pool of listeners than Foursquare .
Locis.it allows users to broadcast announcements to any other users within a specified radius, from one block to 10 miles. The idea is to alert people to events and other happenings occurring nearby, such as a band performance. For privacy, users can blast anonymously, and these messages are set by default to disappear after 30 minutes. However, unlike Foursquare, messages go out to anyone on the network within range.
The key to preventing the government, or your mom, from tracking you is to stay away from location apps, turn off location on other social apps such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and limit the visibility of your social media posts to those you trust.
For more tips, read " How to Set Your Smartphone's Social Privacy Settings ."