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.