Does the internet really need me to check in?

by , under personal

Yesterday Facebook announced (and began rolling out) its new service Places. Which is essentially a check-in service ala FourSquare, only built into Facebook.

Also, they oh so helpfully enabled it for you. (That was meant to be sarcastic – I’ll be posting later on about helpful ways to lock down your Facebook’s security). But for now, lifehacker has a great post about how to disable Facebook Places. (Just don’t forget to look at the Applications and Websites subsection)

As some might have noticed, I’ve gone to great care to not broadcast where I live. I do not actually live in Los Angeles. I live in the Greater Los Angeles Area, but I try not to say exactly where. If I mention shopping on Twitter, it’s usually as I’m leaving or when I’m home. Even then, it’s just the store name, and not the exact location. I don’t mind tweeting about vacations, as I live in a house with 5 other adults. As silly as it sounds, someone is always home. However, having not mentioned exactly where I live, I’m not exactly broadcasting a vulnerable location.

There is a method to my madness. I’m extremely uncomfortable about broadcasting where I am- not just for privacy’s sake, but because I have been stalked and obsessed over. And creepily, they didn’t involve the internet at all.

The first was when I was a senior in high school. I wasn’t the most popular girl, though our class was small enough that I knew someone from just about every clique. I was the Drama Club treasurer, and worked on every production we had. I was the costumer and even in my spare time, I was trying to organize the massive collection of thrift store finds that the department owned.

A sophomore had a crush on me. He followed me everywhere. While it bothered me, he was a little creepy, I ignored it. He asked me out, I politely declined and thought that would be the end. He continued to follow me everywhere on campus. He was outside my classrooms when I’d leave. He was in the little theater during our break and lunch (not uncommon for all the theater rats). When I opted to spend that time in the costume loft, figuring that I’d be removed enough that he’d get the point- he started showing up there.

I spoke to the drama teacher. I spoke to my guidance counsellor. And a vice-principal. All agreed- there was nothing that could be done. What he was doing was merely a nuisance, nothing about my claims said that he was actually stalking me. After all, it was a big enough campus. He could just have a similar class schedule and want to be involved with the Drama department. Saddened and starting to be a little afraid (I’d been getting a lot of calls at home where someone simply hung up after I answered), I spent all my time up in the loft with one little light on, hiding behind a prop stack if I heard someone coming up the stairs. At home, I either immediately jumped online (ah the days of Dial-up) or screened calls.

My friends had enough. A few of the guys pulled the guy aside and told him to back off. He did. For a little bit. Then he was back to waiting by my car as I left school. Loitering in the shop when there was no reason for anyone to be there. But he gave me a bit more space.

There was a drama campout that he was allowed to go on, that I almost didn’t go to. When I expressed discomfort, I was told that because he hadn’t threatened me, there was nothing they could do. While there were chaperones at the campout (one of whom was his mother- who had insisted that he was a good boy and that I was paranoid), my friends stuck by me. I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere alone. Bathroom trips, everything. I’m not sure if it was that, or if someone threatened him with bodily harm, or if he simply found someone else to obsess over- but it stopped that weekend.

I’ve tried to be careful about what I put out there because of this. My phone numbers, once I moved out of the house, never had an address or more than my first initial. When someone found me that I didn’t want to find me (apparently I just attract creeps) we first changed it to TheBoy’s initial and last name, then went unlisted. My online profiles never had my full name. I tried not to include what city I lived in- and even though I was in Ventura County, I opted to say it was LA. Then Orange County. I didn’t mind mentioning I worked at Disneyland- after all, so did a thousand other people. I tried not to mention where, though.

Yes, the internet has come a long way from those early days. We use it to keep in touch, to know what our friends are up to- all at a constant pace. But please, think about how much information you’re sharing. You might think that you’re simply sharing that you’re at Starbucks in case a friend is nearby. But to someone who might be stalking you via the internet- you’re sharing your routine, even if you check in on FourSquare as you’re leaving. Which bars and restaurants you frequent, the nights you go out. Where you stop on the way to work, the restaurants you have lunch at, and even the rough times that you stop at those places. It’s all there.

I was lucky. Any of the times that I’ve been the subject of someone’s obsession (yes, multiple times. I know, I’m sooo lucky), the person wasn’t violent. Hopefully, they stayed that way. But they were only able to find me at one location (the kid from my high school and a skeezy guy who still stares at the pretty girls at Disneyland).

So no, I’m not interested in sharing with the world when I go to the Starbucks that’s just up the street from my house. Or when I’m hitting a movie at my favorite local movie theater (which is an awesome theater- digital projection in all theaters and independently run, but I won’t say where!). I even hesitated sharing my review for Seta, because it narrowed down what part of LA I live in.

Just remember- while technology is making it easier for you and your friends to hang out, it’s also making it easier for criminals, evil exes and stalkers to do what they do. Be smart out there, and be safe.