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  • 04.02.10

Foursquare’s Digital Graffiti, a Legally Nerve-Wracking Taste of the Future

foursquare graffiti

Foursquare is really on the ascendant as location-based gaming/social networking blossoms among smartphone users. But there’s a novel side-effect happening…users are indulging in “virtual graffiti” on places and people, too. It’s the future, arriving a little early.

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The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting on this effect, based on information gathered from U.S. university and college campuses. Most uses are benign and represent a clever way to use the location-based-powers inside smartphones and apps like Foursquare. Harvard, for example, is using geotagged locations around the site to act as a virtual tour, rich in information, for newcomers. North Carolina State U has a clever system that delivers geolocated history-on-the-spot information, such as letting users view images from the campus taken years ago at the spot where they’re standing.

The geotagging powers do have less benevolent uses though, and Foursquare campus virtual graffiti is on the rise. The tags vary from relatively low-impact, such as leaving a tag on a professor’s office that says something like “watch out for lame jokes!” to more serious personal comments, which either reveal information that people would prefer to remain personal or are disparaging or libelous in some way. Of course, it’s a highly dynamic effect, and the implications depend on where you draw the line. Said professor may enjoy having an invisible “lame joker” tag on her office, or students may get a cuteness kick out of tagging the sofa where they first made out. But, considering that notions of digital privacy are changing and challenging, and that there’ve been a number of legal cases–such as the Yelp extortion case–sprouting from novel uses of social network-connected digital media (of which Foursquare represents an extremely cutting edge example) it really won’t be long until someone somewhere fights a legal battle over digital graffiti.

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