Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

May 12 2010


Location, location, etc: What does the WSJ’s Foursquare check-in say about the future of location in news?

It was the Foursquare check-in heard ’round the world. Or, at least, ’round the future-of-news Twitterverse. On Friday, the Wall Street Journal checked in to the platform’s Times Square venue with some breaking news:

The headline that screenshot-taker dpstyles appended to the image is correct: the real-time, geo-targeted news update was, really, a pretty amazing use of the Foursquare platform.

It wasn’t the first time that the Journal, via its Greater New York section, has leveraged Foursquare’s location-based infrastructure for news delivery purposes. The outlet has done more with Foursquare than the much-discussed implementation of its branded badges; it has also been making regular use of the Tips function of Foursquare, which allows users to send short, location based updates — including links — to their followers. The posts range from the food-recommendation stuff that’s a common component of Tips (“@Tournesol: The distinctively French brunches here feature croques madames and monsieurs and steak frites. After dining, check out the Manhattan skyline in Gantry State Park”) to more serious, newsy fare:

@ The middle of the Hudson River: Remember the Miracle on the Hudson? Well, investigators aren’t saying that Captain “Sully” shouldn’t have landed in the river, but he probably didn’t need to. [Link])

@ George Washington Bridge: Police were told to stop and search would-be subway bomber Najibullah Zazi’s car in Sept. 2009 as he drove up to the bridge — but waved him across without finding two pounds of explosives hidden inside. [Link]

@ Old Homestead Steakhouse: Kobe beef, one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, was pulled from the menu after Japanese cows tested positive for foot-and-mouth disease. [Link]

The general idea is, essentially, curation by way of location: geo-targeting, news dissemination edition. “You get these tips because you’re nearby,” Zach Seward, the WSJ’s outreach editor (and, of course, the late, great Lab-er) told me. “So at least in theory, that’s when you’re most interested in knowing about them.”

The Journal’s use of the check-in feature for a breaking-news story, however, suggests a shift in the platform/content relationship implied in the info-pegged-to-places structure. “Times Square evacuated” is a legitimate news item, of course, in most any context; but it’s particularly legitimate to people who happen to be in Times Square at the moment the news breaks. The Journal’s check-in acknowledged and then leveraged that fact — and, in that, changed the value proposition of location in the context of news delivery. In its previous tips, the location had been pretty much incidental to the information — a clever excuse, basically, to share a piece of news about a particular place (see, again: “The middle of the Hudson river“). In the Times Square check-in, though, the information shared was vitally connected to the physical space it referred to. Location wasn’t merely a conduit for information; it was the information. Proximity’s previously weak tie to content became a strong one.

In other words, as Seward explains of the Times Square check-in: “If you’re following the Journal, and you’re in New York, you’re going to see this at the top of your timeline on your Foursquare app. And if you’re not in New York, you’re not going to see it — or you’re not going to see it at the top. And that makes perfect sense.” Because, again: “That idea that you want to be informed about what’s around you is the fundamental principle that Foursquare is operating on.”

Whether Foursquare itself is an effective venue for a news outlet’s realization of that principle is a different issue. There are certainly advantages to Foursquare for location-aware news — its built-in user base, for one. Its curatorial power, for another. (“One really specific way in which it’s ideal,” Seward says, “is that the whole platform is designed around only telling you what’s in your vicinity.” It focuses, myopically and straightforwardly, on the near — filtering out the far.) For users, then, Foursquare-as-news-platform suggests a river whose width is narrow, whose content is familiar — and whose current is as such readily navigable.

And for news organizations, it offers a relatively organic approach to the problem of content presentation. “Generally, whether it’s in print or online, or any platform for a news organization, you have one opportunity to decide how important a story is — and give it a huge, assassinations-sized banner headline, or a small little bullet, or whatever in between,” Seward points out. “But with local news in particular, the relevancy, and the importance, varies widely, often based on where you are, and/or where you live.” A location-based infrastructure for news delivery provides, among other things, “an opportunity to make that adjustment.”

Which is not to say that Foursquare itself is ideal for those purposes. The Journal’s use of tips and, now, check-ins, Seward says, “is a bit of a hack of a system that wasn’t created for brands.” The Journal is still, according to Foursquare, located in Times Square — via a check-in clarifying that Friday’s bomb scare had been a false alarm — and until the outlet’s editors decide that there’s another story worth checking in to, it will remain that way. “Because that’s just how Foursquare works.”

There’s also the “how Foursquare works” in the more ephemeral sense. Whether you’re a badge-laden multi-mayor or find the platform to be an unholy union of the mobile web and Troop Beverly Hills, Foursquare has defined its identity, at least in its early existence, by a feature that has been both its key limitation and its key asset: the purity of its socialness. Foursquare is fun. It’s peer-to-peer. Even more importantly, it’s pal-to-pal.

The Journal’s presence on Foursquare — and, further, its leveraging of the platform for purposes of news dissemination and (oof!) branded information — adds some tension to that freewheeling spirit. (As Adam Clark Estes, The Huffington Post’s citizen journalism editor, put it: “Does @WSJ sending news alerts via @foursquare clog the utility/fun? Or challenge Twitter?”) News content, almost by inertia, has a way of infiltrating nearly every major social media platform; there’s an is nothing sacred? aspect to the criticisms of outlets’ imposition of themselves on the board-game-writ-real that is Foursquare.

That’s something Seward is well aware of. “Perhaps more than Twitter, people use Foursquare in a really personal way,” he says. “They limit who they’re following to people they actually know, and they’re expecting to see their friends there.” So it might well be jarring to find a news organization’s tips and check-ins mixed into a timeline with the personal ones. (Then again, he points out, users “can choose or not choose to have those updates pushed to them.” So that mixture, like the updates themselves, is an opt-in scenario.) And then there’s the issue of a check-in suggesting a reporter’s physical presence on the scene of a news story: How should news outlets navigate that implication? They’re “good questions,” Seward says — even as he downplays the check-in’s significance in the greater scheme of things. (“Foursquare just announced that it now has over 40 million check-ins,” Seward notes, making the Times Square update “just one of 40 million check-ins in its history.”) Still, one little check-in can suggest a lot. Location-based news — its potential and its pitfalls — is something that the Journal and, now, other outlets will likely continue to grapple with as they find their own place in the new media landscape.

March 12 2010


4-Minute Roundup: The Rising Buzz of Location Services at SXSW

This episode of 4MR is brought to you by the Knight Digital Media Center, providing a spectrum of training for the 21st century journalist. Find out more at KDMC's website. It's also underwritten by GoDaddy, helping you set up your own website in a snap with domain name registration, web hosting and 24/7 support. Visit GoDaddy to learn more.

Here's the latest 4MR audio report from MediaShift. In this week's edition, I look at the growing interest in geo-location services such as Foursquare and Gowalla, especially as the South by Southwest conference begins in Austin, Texas. Now, Twitter and Facebook are both preparing to add geo-location to their services as well, and Google already has Latitude and Buzz that can show your location. But will this become a mainstream phenomenon or just a pastime for the tech-savvy in-crowd? I talk to analyst Greg Sterling to find out more.

Check it out:


>>> Subscribe to 4MR <<<

>>> Subscribe to 4MR via iTunes <<<

Background music is "What the World Needs" by the The Ukelele Hipster Kings via PodSafe Music Network.

Here are some links to related sites and stories mentioned in the podcast:

Facebook's Coming Location Service - Feature for Users, Platform for Apps at Inside Facebook

Just In Time For The Location Wars, Twitter Turns On Geolocation On Its Website at TechCrunch

Facebook Will Allow Users to Share Location at NY Times Bits blog

Vicarious.ly - SimpleGeo's One Location-Based Stream To Visualize Them All at TechCrunch

Facebook, Twitter Ready Location-Based Features at PC World

Facebook Isn't For Real Life Friends Anymore, Says Foursquare's Dennis Crowley at Business Insider

Foursquare, Gowalla and the future of geo-location at the Telegraph

In geolocation wars, SXSWi is mere skirmish at CNET

6 Thoughts About Location Madness at ReadWriteWeb

What Are the Legal Implications of PleaseRobMe? at MediaShift

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about what you think geo-location services:

What do you think of geo-location services like Foursquare?surveys

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

This episode of 4MR is brought to you by the Knight Digital Media Center, providing a spectrum of training for the 21st century journalist. Find out more at KDMC's website. It's also underwritten by GoDaddy, helping you set up your own website in a snap with domain name registration, web hosting and 24/7 support. Visit GoDaddy to learn more.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

March 08 2010


What Are the Legal Implications of PleaseRobMe?

They know where you sleep, and now they know where you get coffee.

That was the message driven home by the recently created website PleaseRobMe.com. The site aggregates Twitter posts sent when a person uses Foursquare to check in at a location -- meaning they're basically telling the world that they're not at home at the moment.

According to the folks at PleaseRobMe, if a would-be burglar knows you're out with friends, that "leaves one place you're definitely not...home."

The site is a commentary on the downside of overusing location-based services like Foursquare and Loopt. These services allow users to "check-in" at different locations around the globe using smartphones or laptops. Once checked-in, a user can choose to publicly share where they happen to be by using services like Twitter.

"The site allows people to meet and is a way to find out what is going on in your area,"
said Dennis Crowley, CEO and co-founder of Foursquare. Recently, Crowley checked-in at an airport and was surprised to discover a friend he hadn't seen in months was just two terminals away. "That's the benefit," Crowley said.

While one of PleaseRobMe's founders insists the site is not really an attempt to aid cat burglars, it could be just one step away from walking outside the First Amendment's protection of free speech.

Is PleaseRobMe Aiding Burglars?

While the First Amendment's guarantee that "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech" seems absolute, not every form of speech is guarded by the Constitution. Rather, the Supreme Court has held that some forms of speech are not entitled to full protection.

According to several lower courts, speech that aids and abets illegal acts are not shielded by the First Amendment. So, if a website were to aid in the commission of a crime and was sued for its part in the offense, the First Amendment would not offer the publisher any protection.


In an influential Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals case, Rice v. Paladin Enterprises, Paladin published a book titled, "Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors." The book provided "detailed instructions about how to...execute and cover up a murder." In 1993, a man named James Perry followed the author's instructions, killing three people. Subsequently, relatives of the deceased successfully sued Paladin for aiding Perry in the murders.

The Fourth Circuit stated that in order to charge a publisher with aiding and abetting a crime, the publisher must intend for people to use the article to commit an illegal act. In coming to its decision, the court noted that Paladin's book was "so comprehensive and detailed that it is as if the [author] were literally present with the would-be murderer" during the crime.

The founders of PleaseRobMe have consistently stated that they do not want people to use the site to rob a house. Instead, the site is a commentary on the amount of personal information people are making publicly available. In fact, a burglar would have a difficult time using PleaseRobMe to commit a crime, since the site does not provide anyone's home address unless it too has been posted to Twitter.

Section 230 Defense

Be that as it may, PleaseRobMe begs a particularly important question. What if someone designed a site that was intended, and could be used, to aid burglars using publicly available information? Could they be sued after someone's house was robbed?

While such a site may lack constitutional protection since its intended use would be to aid the commission of a crime, it could be protected by Congress. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act gives immunity to any "interactive computer service," such as a website, against civil lawsuits (but not criminal sanctions) that arise from third party publications.

Section 230 was passed in 1996, just as the Internet was just beginning to make headway with the American public. As many courts have stated, the history behind Section 230 made it clear that Congress did not want websites to be liable for the statements of others. The legislature felt that imposing such a burden would hamper the Internet's development.

Normally, Section 230 is invoked when a website is sued for publishing a defamatory statement that was written by a guest poster or independent commenter. In these cases, "Section 230 is often considered to be a very strong protection against defamation suits," said Robert Richards, co-founder of the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment.

The question currently facing courts is how far to "define the bounds of Section 230 immunity," Richards said.

Although Section 230 is often applied to defamation lawsuits, it has also been employed in invasion of privacy, negligence and misappropriation claims. As a result of this expansion, it is not unthinkable that a court would extend Section 230 to protect a website against civil claims of aiding and abetting a burglary.

Of course, there is a question of whether such a website could be understood as merely facilitating third party publications. Nonetheless, in the wake of the PleaseRobMe controversy, the legal question posed here seems relevant, and is far from answered.

Do Location-Based Services Invade Privacy?

As location-based networks become more popular, the risk of sharing sensitive information increases as well. Though many lament the fact that so much personal information is available online, Foursquare's Crowley said his service isn't invasive.


"We've been working on the project since 2001 and have checked in almost every day for the last 10 years, and the only bad thing that's happened is an ex-girlfriend will sometimes show up where I am," Crowley said.

He emphatically noted that "Foursquare is not tracking you. You have to check in and voluntarily choose to make your location publicly available."

"At the end of the day, you have to be aware of what you're doing online and the consequences of your acts," said Kurt Opsahl, senior attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "It's a matter of expectations. People want to tell their friends where they are,but, as PleaseRobMe points out, other actors may see personal information as well."

Although Foursquare users must volunteer to divulge their whereabouts with the general public, the site's editors may share some information with local businesses when offering various promotions, according to Foursquare's privacy policy.

This has caught the attention of Congress, which is set to hold a hearing titled, "The Collection and Use of Location Information for Commercial Purposes." The hearing will discuss the privacy concerns that have arisen due to location-based services.

"The key issue with these types of sites is disclosure. If people are agreeing that information can be shared in this manner, then that's a service that a company can provide," said Opsahl.

While the notion of sharing personal information with businesses may make some people uneasy, there are potential benefits. For instance, Foursquare's "mayor" promotion offers free products to the user who checks in at a location the most often.

"In Texas, there is a restaurant that will give away a free steak dinner to the person who checks in the most," Crowley said.

Rob Arcamona is a second-year law student at the George Washington University Law School. Prior to attending law school, Rob worked at the Student Press Law Center and also helped establish ComRadio, the Pennsylvania State University's student-run Internet-based radio station. He writes the Protecting the Source blog.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.
No Soup for you

Don't be the product, buy the product!

YES, I want to SOUP ●UP for ...