Updated: North Face Deal Could Generate Big Bucks for National Park Foundation, But Is It A Good Deal For You?

A deal was announced last week that could end up sending $150,000 to the National Park Foundation...but is it a good deal for you?

The fund-raiser involving the foundation and The North Face centers on you revealing where you physically are in real time. The idea is that if you happen to be near a North Face retail outlet, you'll be encouraged to enter the store with a promotion of some sort. If you do, The North Face will donate a dollar to the foundation.

Unfortunately, if you're not careful you run the risk of not just revealing your location to The North Face and the National Park Service -- TNF will also donate a dollar to the foundation if you "check in" to a unit of the National Park System -- but to possible stalkers. And you could also be letting thieves know you're not at home. In a country where we're already worried about identity theft and phishing schemes and how to prevent them, is this a good idea?

Here's how it works. Facebook just recently rolled out its Facebook® Deals program. This is an advertising program that lets advertisers reach out to you on your smart phone app.

As the folks at PCWorld explain it, "To take advantage of Facebook's new deals program you have to first reveal your location to Facebook by checking in to Places. Then any deals in your immediate vicinity will show up on your handset (iPhone-only for now). Say you wanted to take advantage of a 25 percent discount offer at H&M. All you have to do is check in at the clothing retailer, and then show a virtual coupon to the cashier or salesperson to receive your discount."

Under the National Park Foundation's agreement with The North Face, the outdoor gear manufacturer will donate $1 to the foundation -- up to a maximum $150,000 -- "for every individual who checks in at one of America’s nearly 400 national parks or a The North Face retail location." (Foundation officials would not say what TNF's minimum donation will be.)

“We couldn’t be more excited to be working with our partners at the National Park Service, and our friends at The North Face and Facebook, to give people everywhere the opportunity to use this unique technology to support their parks,” said Neil Mulholland, the foundation's president and CEO. “Together, we are able to encourage people to get out and experience these treasured places, use technology to share them with their family and friends, and ultimately help strengthen our parks for the future.”

Even National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis is endorsing this program, stating in the press release announcing the program that, “We appreciate that the Foundation and The North Face are working together to make ‘checking in’ a show of support for national parks and look forward to welcoming first-time and returning national park visitors as they check out (and check in to) these great places that all Americans own.”

To be sure, sending money to the foundation that can be invested in the National Park System is a good thing. But the Facebook® Deals program is drawing a lot of scrutiny from those concerned about these "tracker" programs.

At the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a number of issues, security and otherwise, are raised over Places. For starters, apparently the Places setting is the default for all users, so you'd have to opt out if you didn't want to be tracked.

If a user checks in, that user can "tag" a number of friends as also being at the same location. The default behavior for users tagged by their friends is very confusing. Those users who have taken no action with respect to this setting will receive an email and a prompt with the options to "allow" or "not now." Those who choose "allow" are automatically set to allow all future check-ins by friends. Those who choose "not now" are still tagged as being at the location, just not "checked in." Users are also tagged immediately when the check-in takes place, although the tags may be removed once users become aware of them. A user who has ever used Places to check in is automatically set to allow check-ins by friends. By default, check-in information is also available to the third-party developers of applications that a user has authorized, as well as to the third-party developers of applications that a user's friends have authorized.

In an article that appeared in ComputerWorld in late August, writer Sharon Gaudin pointed out that, "Any location-based service will instill some trepidation in users who see it as a stalker's best friend. Want to know where someone is? Check Places. Want to know when someone is away from home so you can break in and steal their flat-screen TV? Check Places."

To read more concerns about this new Facebook initiative, head over here.

At Facebook,representatives point out that users can set their privacy settings "as tightly or as loosely" as they want.

You control and own all of the information you contribute to Facebook including your Places information. You decide how and with whom you share. Your location is never automatically shared: not when you use your mobile device, not when you use the Facebook application and not when you use the Places feature. Your location is only ever shared when you check in to a Place. You have full control over whether and with whom you share your check-ins.

In the "Customize settings" section of your main privacy settings, simply select the drop-down box next to "Places I check in to" and select one of the four recommended settings: Everyone, Friends and Networks, Friends of Friends, or Friends Only. Alternatively, you can make the locations you check in to visible to or hidden from specific people by clicking "Custom."

You can also control whether or not your friends can check you in to a Place by selecting "Enable" or "Disable" in the box next to "Friends can check me in to Places." Just as with photos, your friends can tag you at Places they check into. You can always remove your name when a friend tags you.

Still, shortly after the promotion was announced one person said they were leery of the program because of the tracking.

"Nice idea, and glad to see support for National Parks, though I am still not so sure about Facebook's "stalker" app...." the individual wrote on the foundation's Facebook site.

When the Traveler raised the issue with the foundation, officials there responded that, "Use of Facebook and its features is entirely voluntary – and up to each individual to decide if they would like to participate. The Foundation encourages all who opt to participate to understand the program and only share the information they are comfortable with."

Neither National Park Service nor The North Face officials responded to the Traveler's requests for comment on the security issues smart-phone users might be opening themselves to by participating in this campaign.

National Park Foundation officials did say the promotion was intended in part to reach out to younger generations, those young adults who seem to have smart phones attached by an umbilical cord. But that audience might be incredibly small. According to the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project, just "4 percent of online adults use a service such as Foursquare or Gowalla that allows them to share their location with friends and to find others who are nearby."

"On any given day," added the report, also released last week, "1 percent of internet users are using these services."

Combine those facts with the general lack of cellphone service in a national park, and one begins to wonder how successful the foundation's program will prove to be.

Comments

Cell phones worked just fine in Yosemite Valley. I wonder, of course, how much this sort of promotion puts pressure on the NPS to install more cell phone friendly services in parks. It seems likethe parks are becoming more and more dependent on corporate sponsorship for revenues. Is this really a good thing?

I use location-sharing services with my friends and think they're a ton of fun. Just this weekend I checked into a local state park while I was on a hike. I think the security concerns are overblown, especially considering I have yet to hear of a real example of someone being robbed after checking in somewhere, despite having used these services for over a year and hearing this worry repeated ad nauseam. While the percentage of people who use Twitter/foursquare/gowalla might be small, they are passionate and skew younger, so it makes sense for many different kinds of organizations to tap into them, particularly in the travel/tourism segment. While I do agree that Facebook should default to having people opt in rather than opt out, the fears of stalkers, privacy, etc., remind me of my grandmother being very concerned that this new fangled "MapQuest" could give strangers directions right to her front door...

I'm so shocked that Facebook has yet another eyebrow raising issue with having users opt in to a particular feature that they think makes people's lives better. I'm still annoyed that Facebook has proliferated onto other sites.

But anyway, the Ice Age Trail Alliance is encouraging people to check in on Facebook to REI in Brookfield, WI for the same purpose. I gather it's the same thing, though it wasn't clear to me that you had to actually go to the REI in Brookfield to "check in" on your phone there. But apparently if you're not nearby it doesn't work. I really doubt this will net them more than a few bucks though, to be honest.

I do not like nor support the National Park Foundation in any way.

I can understand NPF wanting to reach this tech-saavy demographic. The pairing is a natural one, esp. if the org. is trying to shed a perception of dowdiness. Perhaps the more troublesome piece here is whose database is my cell info being channeled into, and better yet, will it be sold or passed on to others? FB is essentially selling access to me — w/my tacit agreement, of course.

What ever happened to people and corporations simply making contributions to organizations and causes that they believe in, without looking at it as an advertising opportunity, or somehow getting something else in return?

I was curious about NPF, so I tried to check them out on "Charity Navigator."

Here are the results:
We don't evaluate National Park Foundation.
Why not? The National Park Foundation is exempt under Internal Revenue Code from filing the Form 990. As a result, we lack sufficient data to evaluate their financial health.

Campbell's Soup has had their "Labels for Education" program for ages. I remember it back when I was in elementary school. Corporations have almost always insisted getting back something in return, because they have a duty to their owners or shareholders. It may be information or it may be publicity. The North Face is owned by VF Corporation, and I'm frankly not surprised that they want something in return.

Location-based social networking does seem to be an idea that is rapidly taking off... and my guess is that eventually our society will eventually adjust to this new influx of information. Similar to twitter, I haven't yet found much use for it - but I understand that other people love it, and I can't blame the NPF for looking for a creative way to tap into that phenomenon.

With that being said, I am a bit surprised by the comment regarding "the general lack of cellphone coverage in a National Park." My guess is that unless you're someplace like Isle Royale or Kobuk Valley, most of the Nation's 393 National Parks have plenty of cell phone coverage - certainly enough for a visitor to take advantage of this promotion.

Sabattis:
Location-based social networking does seem to be an idea that is rapidly taking off... and my guess is that eventually our society will eventually adjust to this new influx of information. Similar to twitter, I haven't yet found much use for it - but I understand that other people love it, and I can't blame the NPF for looking for a creative way to tap into that phenomenon.

With that being said, I am a bit surprised by the comment regarding "the general lack of cellphone coverage in a National Park." My guess is that unless you're someplace like Isle Royale or Kobuk Valley, most of the Nation's 393 National Parks have plenty of cell phone coverage - certainly enough for a visitor to take advantage of this promotion.

That's highly dependent on the location. I remember being in Yellowstone and unable to get a cell signal anywhere until I got to Gardiner. Yosemite Valley has a cell signal, but it's iffy in areas. Still - I remember waking up in the backcountry because the Boy Scout in the tent "next door" was talking to his parents on his phone. The area was well out of any apparent line of sight for a cell phone tower, but the signal was coming through very well. I've been to many NPS locations all over the western US, and there were a lot of places where I wouldn't be able to place a call.

There are even some hilly locations in the San Francisco Bay Area where cell phone coverage is spotty. I would think that Muir Woods NM might be one of them because of the terrain.

Lee,

I share your concern. I have often wanted to express my concerns about the NPF, but felt that I might be regarded as a heretic.

For the past 35 months (on and off), I have been trying to find accurate, detailed, financial information for the NPF. In my attempt to do so, I have contacted Charity Navigator, the NPF, the IRS, my Congressman, and the office of one of my US Senators. These contacts have all left me empty handed. I have a pending (5 months) FOIA request with a federal agency that the NPF deals with. My next step is to contact the Office of Government Information Services to see if they can help to expedite my FOIA request. I remain hopeful that I will be able to find the information that reputable charities make readily available.

M

Just another step down the slippery slope of corporate involvement in the national parks. Since Congress won't adequately fund them (especially after these past elections) the Park Service, with NPF as the mechanism, will continue to have to sell out to big business to stick around.

Chevron helped fund the renovation of the Lower Yosemite Fall Trail.

Interesting discussion. I have mixed feelings about corporate donations to parks. On the one hand philanthropy has played a major role in our National Parks beginning with its first director, Steve Mather. However, when too many strings get attached to the donation, contentious issues arise. The case of the Yosemite Falls restoration was one such discussion. A very distinguished American landscape architect was hired to do the project. Issues included paving a trail through a braided stream channel, disturbing a deer fawning area, etc. Some discussion was centered on the size of a shuttle bus stop, some critics claiming it was a monument to the designer. In any case many viewed this as very constructive, a loop trail was built that allowed handicapped access, a parking lot was converted to a picnic area, etc. I do feel that corporate donations should be reviewed carefully and that the final result needs to match the intent of the legislation authorizing the area. Also the donation should dovetail with the current approved plans for the area involved. Must agree however, that congressional budget authorizations should be the primary source of funds for maintaining our parks. Not very likely to happen in the political climate existing today.