Aug 18

Consider Your Legal Rights When Using Geolocation

Today, someone on Twitter sent me a DM that he was sad I have had to get a restraining order and therefore do not feel comfortable making any geolocation profiles I have public. This was in response to my many public tweets warning people that publishing your location to perfect strangers simply is not a very good idea. He felt sad that I was “denied a sense of community”. Like I don’t get to play any Reindeer Games and everyone else does.


keyser-soze I love the movie “Usual Suspects”. In the film, Kevin Spacey’s character gives a speech about how the greatest trick the devil ever did was to convince you he didn’t exist. This is exactly how I feel about people who don’t get why privacy is still an issue with social networking. Most people are indeed benevolent. However, it only takes ONE PERSON to make your life a living hell, and even seemingly rational people do very irrational things. Good people can do very evil things sometimes and you do have to have some form of circumspection when utilizing social media. It doesn’t mean it can’t be fun or useful–it just means you probably shouldn’t make yourself a sitting duck by broadcasting where you are every waking moment to the entire world. I don’t understand why this is something people resist so much.

Why is this so scary to me? The lady who processed my protective order told me one of the most common ways abusive ex-husbands find their ex-wives in hiding is by using their credit card statements. If a woman forgets to have her credit card statements forwarded to her new address, her abusive ex can see where she is spending money and track her whereabouts. Yes, women have been killed this way. Educated women who thought they were married to sane people.

So now, with a public profile on a geolocation social network, any shmuck not only could have access to your address, where you are legally entitled to act out against an intruder, but where you like to get coffee, eat, drink, or hang out with your friends. You have no legal rights to ask someone to leave in these places without a protective order, which is VERY difficult to get. So you could go to a party, say the wrong thing to the wrong person, and then find them in all your regular spots looking for an apology. You could anger a customer by accident and find them in your favorite coffee house to harass you. You could date a girl twice, decide she’s not for you, and then find her in all of your favorite spots, and you have no legal rights to tell that person to go away. It takes one creepy person to really mess with your mind and trust me, you have to be physically harmed or threatened before the cops really start to look into it. Sometimes, they don’t believe you and it makes you feel even crazier. Is it really worth it?

So sure, use geolocation. Just make sure you are accessible to all the cool people you want in your “community” and not so much to the creepy people you don’t.


  • Jenna

    I only geo-tag picts when I am not at my house or when I am not there anymore.

    However, if someone wants to “crazy stalk” you, they’ll figure it out especially if they’ve spent any time with you.

    Why back in the day before they had the interweb… when cell phones were the size of bricks and costs over a thousand dollars. I could stalk the best of them without high tech gadgetry.

    It was my psycho… I mean psychic gift… or maybe I was right in the first place.

  • Simon Salt

    While I agree with the general principle of using common sense, which to be honest I would hope most adults would be using by the time they reach the point where they can use their own money to buy the tech needed to join these sites, I refute the overwhelming sense of fear in this post. I understand you were a victim, and that is never good. But your experience doesn’t mean that it is the norm nor should it be the expectation. If it were then no one would ever travel on a plane again because one crashed, nor would they let their kids outside because they might be kidnapped, nor would they leave the house because they might be struck by lightening. The world is a scary place, if you let it be. Or you can choose to take normal measures and then jump in with both feet and live. Because the alternative is a slow and numbing stumble toward the grave.
    As for privacy.. what a joke. Social Networks didn’t do away with your privacy. Your address and telephone number are freely available.. it’s called the phone book and gets delivered unsolicited to households everywhere. You can find as much info as you want on someone for as little as $20 on hundreds of websites. This data is far more powerful than anything on a Social Networking site. It includes, Date of Birth, Addresses for the past five years, who you owe money to, where you have worked for the past five years, associated names – which includes relatives and of course for an additional fee you can look those up too to get their addresses. There is nothing on a social networking site that you didn’t put there yourself. Stop the fear. Everything you described in this post was happening to people long before the advent of Social Media sites.

  • mean rachel

    just to play devil’s (stalker’s?) advocate here, how is publishing your location to strangers any different than just being public online? if I wanted to stalk you michelle (and, to be clear, while I think you are rad-ass, I most certainly don’t want to stalk you!), I could find out enough info about you online to figure out where I had a pretty good chance of seeing you at public events and whatnot, not to mention your workplace parking lot.
    I think people who are going to be public, online personalities (and really, anyone who is participating on Twitter/FB/blogs/etc. is creating their online personality) need to be aware that geolocation alone isn’t going to be how someone tracks them down in the situations you mention. a crazy past customer or love interest could just as easily stalk you at work. like jenna says above, if someone’s crazy enough to stalk you, they’re going to figure it out.
    does geolocation help “teh crazy” connect the dots? sure. but without geolocation, are you safer? I don’t think so.

  • Monika

    Thanks for such candid insight, Michelle! You are very right. We all need to be more careful about what we put out there for the world to see. You have inspired me to remove the “my location” detail from my tweets.

  • Michelle

    If you are on my property and I feel threatened by you, I can call the cops. I can take a gun and shoot you. Texas law gives me permission to do so. That is why it is not so weird to have my address available to anyone, because the law protects me in my residence.

    I can also block your phone number.

    If you come to my work, I tell my boss about it. My boss calls the cops as it’s probably private property. This is within my rights.

    If I go to a certain coffee house all the time, I have no rights whatsoever to tell you to leave. I can’t legally do anything and can actually get myself in trouble for instigating anything with you. I have no protection in public places, and yet, I am making it easy for you to find me in them. That is the point of what I’m writing.

    @Rachel “if someone’s crazy enough to stalk you, they’re going to figure it out.”

    I’d just assume not drop the barrier for them to do so. Maybe they’d discover that cute “Charlie bit my finger” video while struggling to find my location, discover life is precious as is, and move on with their life. Ya know what I mean?

    Seriously, what do I get out of a bunch of strangers knowing where I like hanging out? If you want to serendipitously meet me, friend me on Gowalla. If I know you, I’ll accept your request and you can find me. If you don’t know me, email me. At least this way I can vet you somehow. I do not understand why people feel compelled to broadcast everything about themselves to everyone.

    I also like being somewhat private and elusive. I like picking my friends and contacts rather than opening myself up to total strangers and then having to figure out the ones to avoid who only seem to mooch. It means my contacts are quality rather than quantity, and that when I recommend someone, people trust that person because I’ve vetted him or her instead of simply acquiring them as a contact. I don’t like knowing everyone, and I think that’s why people like to know me. I try to be a strong filter.

    So you guys are saying, “Yeah, you have to take risks”. True, but not if I really don’t see many of the benefits of being known by a bunch of strangers. My contacts know how to find me.

  • Kim Hollenshead

    Yep. Yep and yep. And it’s the younger – teenagers who don’t get it the most. Everyone online is NOT necessarily your friend. Be careful!

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