The rise of social media has been a boon for many marketers: When consumers “like” a brand on Facebook, tweet about a consumption experience on Twitter, and check in on Foursquare, they are providing the company free marketing. But they are also giving criminals and unethical marketers an easy means to take advantage of them. Thus the vast benefits of social media combine some threats to consumers.

Consider these examples: On your commute in to work each day, you might pay for your train fare with a monthly transit card that identifies you as the specific user. Say you are running a bit late one day and decide to blame the trains, instead of admitting you slept in late. Conceivably, your boss could check the data gathered when you swiped your card and confront you with the fact that you didn’t even get on the train until 9:15. Or your mother could check to see that you got on at a different stop than usual and ask where exactly you spent the night.

These possibilities may seem harmful to your reputation or pride than anything else. However, when people post their vacation plans or softball schedules on Facebook, they also inform potential burglars exactly when they will be away from their homes. Checking in on Foursquare gives criminals an immediate indication; if you check in at a restaurant, chances are you will not be home for another couple of hours. To highlight this issue, the mashup Web site Please Rob Me ( randomly taps people’s posts on Facebook and Twitter to identify those who have clearly broadcast that they are not at home.

Many users have grown more aware of such concerns and work to avoid such obvious releases of their information. But smartphone cameras stamp each photo taken with latitude and longitude information. Thus, even if you never mention the location of your favorite haunts, stalkers can obtain information about the places you are based on the photos posted on Facebook especially if they are uploaded in realtime.

The need for a new kind of privacy is thus a critical issue for marketers and consumers alike. Ethical marketers must find a way to collect the priceless data that customers make available through social media while avoiding collecting details that violate people’s right to locational privacy—defined as a person’s ability to move normally in public spaces with the expectation that his or her location will not be recorded for subsequent use.

Think about the information you post publically. What do you do to protect yourself against giving out too much personal information?

Andrew J. Blumberg and Peter Eckerdsly, “On Locational Privacy, and How to Avoid Losing It Forever,” Electronic Frontier Foundation White Paper, August 2009, (accessed May 11, 2011).