Fellow Pocketables editor Paul E. King recently emailed me a copy of the screenshot you see on the right (with all identifying information smudged out, of course): unbeknownst to me, he was receiving my commute updates in Google Now. He had the ability to know exactly when I left home and when I came back home, in the form of a handy Google Now card.
While Paul is a trustworthy guy, and I don’t really care if he knows where I’m at, his email was a great reminder for me to double check my location sharing settings in all the services I use everyday – especially during the holidays. This is especially important if you use any of Google’s services: as we know, Google is increasingly making the use of Google+ a requirement, from YouTube commenting to Play Store reviews. Even if you don’t use Google+ actively, if you use other Google services, chances are you might have signed up for a Google+ profile, as well.
And once you sign up for Google+, it’s incredibly easy to share lots of stuff with lots of people who you may or may not personally know. While most of my family and friends are on Facebook, my Google+ circles are filled with Pocketables readers, tech writers, and other interesting people who I like to follow simply because they’re interesting. The percentage of people in my Google+ circles who I actually know in person is much smaller than Facebook.
Chances are, your Google+ page looks a lot like mine in that regard. And if you’re not careful about organizing your circles and limiting what each circle can see, you might unknowingly be broadcasting your location to people who probably shouldn’t have it. To be clear, I’m not saying that you should completely turn off location sharing; to the contrary, I like having a personal record of my location throughout the day (it’s come in handy several times when trying to remember what days I did stuff), and I like my partner having the ability to be notified when I leave work and am on my way home. I just have to remember to be smart about my privacy settings.
The same holds true for Facebook, Foursquare, and any other location sharing services you might use. While it’s great to let friends and family know that you’ve made it someplace safely, and to post pictures of your travels, you don’t want to broadcast publicly that no one is home.
Be safe and smart this holiday season – and be sure to take some time to set down the devices and enjoy the company of others!