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Like Foursquare? Hope so, cuz your insurance just went up [Image]

Services like Foursquare and Gowalla allow you to tell your friends, family, and social networks where you are at any given time. These services are a marketer’s dream come true. Basically, you are giving them tons of information about your habits and preferences and it feels like it’s just a game. But marketers aren’t the only ones looking and mining that data.

FoursquareI really like social media. In fact, I use Foursquare. So don’t mistake me for a social media fear-monger when I say that Foursquare leads to increased insurance rates. Specifically, geo-location apps and tagging (like on Twitter) leads to increased home insurance rates.

Rising insurance rates are a logical outcome if you stop and think about it for a moment. Sites like PleaseRobMe.com (now shut down) claimed to be raising awareness about this issue, but really they were just adding to it by aggregating tweets of people broadcasting that they weren’t home. The problem is that robbers and fiends check social networks for folks saying, “I’m not home.” Now you may not literally say that, but checking-in through Gowalla or Foursquare says the same thing. Or even just telling everyone on Facebook that you are leaving on vacation is screaming, “I’m not home!”

As crime levels increase, the insurance companies have to adjust their actuarial tables in order to cover the increase in claims. And since they have profit margins to protect, we as customers have to pay more. Don’t believe me? Well, I’m not the first one to talk about this. In fact, the British Association of Insurers believes that insurance rates will increase by as much as 10% as a direct result. You can read more about that report at Media Post.

Social networks are addicting, I know. Adding rewards and badges creates a game-like atmosphere. Someone who checks-in (or says, “I’m at this location”) more than anyone else becomes mayor of that location. I recently lost the mayorship at work to a contractor, which is slightly embarrassing. But I digress.

Now, just in case I’m not being clear enough, let me use some stick figure drawings to get the point across.

Foursquare and Theft

See my point? So before you announce your every movement to the world (FYI, I don’t care that you left your desk to use the restroom), consider who else is seeing that information. Sites like Twitter are public and searchable by anybody. Sites like Facebook allow some level of privacy. So check your privacy settings and be careful about what you share.

The point is folks, don’t be stupid. Just because something is cool and fun doesn’t mean it’s any good for you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m trying to regain mayorship here at work and need to check-in.

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  • Adam,

    As a contractor who has recently become the mayor of the place he works…. I don’t entirely agree with the direction you are predicting.

    There is always a bit of chaos that occurs in a system when you introduce a new technology. But like “Space Invaders Thumb” some things don’t turn out to fundamentally alter society.

    Society is a complex system. And Insurance rates are always looking for a way to go up. So when we introduce some social networking, and Insurance rates see a way they might be able to rise.

    But in theory this is because social networkers are putting themselves at higher risk. But are they?

    Lets pretend that Bob is a social networker.
    Bob has a neighbor who is on is network, and who is also a cop.
    Bob goes to a late night movie, and checks in on foresquare, that tweets it to twitter and updates his status on Facebook.
    Some punk finds Bob’s status, and decides to climb through Bob’s window.
    Bob’s neighbor sees a movement in Bob’s house, and thinks. “How odd, I thought Bob was at that late night movie.”

    If Bob hadn’t been social networking, Bob’s neighbor would not have noticed anything unusual.
    And if Bob hadn’t been social networking, the punk would not have decided to climb in his window. (or would he. Crime did exist before the internet.)

    Now I don’t think that social networking will solve crime. But I think that society is a complex enough system to absorb the rise in the use of social networking without a permanent rise in crime.

    • Thank you soon-to-be-Emeritus-mayor-of-the-place-I-work. The flaw with your hypothetical situation is that someone noticed the burglar. Now, I certainly agree that crime existed before and will continue to exist. And someone who wants to burglarize will do so regardless of social networking. However, the concern is that we may simply make it easier by publicly posting a sign that says, “I’m not home.”

      As per the insurance rates, you are correct that they aren’t looking for a reason to lower rates. So maybe it’s the insurance company who is actually committing a crime of opportunity ;)

      • Well, current Emeritus-mayor-of-the-place-you-work, it wasn’t just the burglar, it was that someone was in the house, while Bob was clearly out.

        Some people let their neighbors know when they go on a trip so they can get the mail and watch the house. Social networking allows us to automate this on a more immediate and granular level.

        And yes, if Social Networking were making us safer, it would be a long time before there was a “Social Networker” discount.

  • SimplyForties

    People who follow me on the various social media sites may know that I’m not home but how would they know where my home is? I don’t have that information listed and I don’t use my whole name anywhere. Obviously my few close friends know where I live and who I am but presumably they are not waiting to rob me.

    • Hey Mary, you raise an excellent point. However, the issue with Foursquare is that many users create a location for their home, so they can check-in at home. That information, including the address, is public information. So all I would have to do is look at someone’s history to easily identify where his or her home is.

      So the concern is mostly around geo-location services and the fact that many users don’t realize that sharing your home address and where you are at all times can be a big threat to your home and potentially family. Again, I’m not a fear-mongerer, but the threat is real.

      • SimplyForties

        Another big concern that has been pointed out to me is that FourSquare is a good tool for stalkers. I suspect if you knew you had a stalker you wouldn’t be posting, but if you were unaware, it could certainly be a problem.

      • Excellent point. And thanks again for hosting the carnival today!

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