The Vancouver Sun is reporting that there has been an arrest made in an August sexual assault. The assault was facilitated by the mobile software Grindr an application that allows gay and bi-sexual men to meet based on their GPS location.
The arrest of Brent Tynan, 54, for the assault of a 15 year old, once again brings up concerns about online safety. From the Sun article:
Sex Crimes Unit Sgt. Jeanette Theisen encouraged parents to have open and frank discussions with their children.
"Advances in technology and social networking make it easier for our children to come into contact with individuals who may try to harm them or take advantage of them," Theisen said.
While location based applications like Foursquare do allow users to control who sees their locations, those sorts of protections are only useful if the users are actually selective in who they friend. Further not all location based applications offer such protection, and it seems as if the use case scenarios presented by Grindr's website are diametrically opposed to such security. The application seems to exist to facilitate the random encounter with nearby gay men, and in this case it helped a 54 year old find a teenager.
Online safety has increasingly been an issue recently, and as more and more applications build out features that take advantage of the user's location data it's going to stay that way. Facebook has been building up its security to help protect its users and other services are likely to follow suit.
Whatever security features are added to applications like Grindr and others, it's important to realize that safety begins and ends with the user's own decisions. Share only what you would want everyone to know, and assume that any information that you put into a social network like Twitter, Foursquare or Facebook is going to end up in the hands of someone you might not want it to.
If you wouldn't feel safe inviting random strangers into your house, don't let your social networks tell them where you live.