April 16, 2014
Anti-Social Media To Help You Avoid People
Living abroad, away from many of my friends and family, the opportunities provided by social media for keeping in touch with people, or at least being aware of what they are up to (see also prying), are welcomed. However, I do like ‘alone time,’ even electronic alone time, and sometimes dislike the fact that we are increasingly more contactable with every passing app.
So when I heard about Cloak, the service that will notify us when certain people are nearby, I was pleased to note that technology can help us to keep ourselves to ourselves, as well as keep us in touch. To go incognito. The app uses public location data from Instagram and Foursquare to alert us to the nearby presence of designated people, the examples it gives being “exes, co-workers, that guy who likes to stop and chat – anyone you’d rather not run into”. It doesn’t even have to be someone you dislike, it could be people you really love but just don’t want to see right now, or someone you have the hots for and would rather not have them see you trying to sneak to the store in your stinky bedclothes.
Of course, the app isn’t that useful unless the people you want to avoid happen to be using Instagram or Foursquare and sharing their location information at the time. The app isn’t really cloaking you either, actually, it is not making you invisible in any sense, but rather just helping you to avoid places where you wouldn’t want to be visible. It would be like if Frodo’s ring didn’t make him instantly disappear but rather just told him where all the nasty creatures were in advance so he could avoid their part of the world and go to the store in his stinky bedclothes instead. But it is more the potential for the idea that is appealing.
I don’t expect the organizations involved would like it very much, but an app that scrambles location information and makes up little lies would be useful. If you wanted to go to the local bar or even to a paradise island by yourself but thought that friends might think it nice to join you having heard you were going, you could throw them off the scent by sending messages with doctored locations: “Hey, how are things? Sent from Ulan Bataar.”Really you would be in the local drinking establishment. No-one would even think to look for you there, or send you an invitation to go there that you would have to think of a way to refuse. “Oh, he’s in Ulan Bataar,” they would think, “I won’t invite him out anywhere this weekend.” Some of your location information you could doctor yourself without such an app, but changing it in on various platforms all the time would be a pain.
This could feed into a broader idea of scrambling and disguising your social network information. An app which replaces for an hour a random friend’s profile details with your name, profile picture and everything else needed to appear as you, so that other friends send messages to you believing you are someone else. You can find out the kind of things your friends say to each other when presumed to be private. Come on, Cloak – you can do better than just telling us what Instagram says.
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