How Lawyers Can Capitalize on Foursquare and Geotagging

Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.

Jim Calloway posted about The Dangers of Photo Geotagging. He referenced a New York Times story describing how a television personality accidentally revealed the location of his home when he posted a photo on Twitter, because of the geotagging embedded in the photo. Geotagging adds geographical metadata to some media such as photos, videos, websites, and social media postings.

Calloway posited a few circumstances in which photo geotagging might be relevant to a lawyer’s case, such as evidence of “harboring a fugitive” based on a photo geotag. Posting a geotagged photo on Facebook could result in the arrest of someone with an outstanding warrant. Remember, other people can post photos on Facebook and tag them with someone else’s name, unless they have blocked that feature. And, if you think fugitives would not be foolish enough to post their own photos on Facebook, check out this Huffington Post story.

Tweets can also be geotagged on Twitter. Can you imagine scenarios where an attorney would find it useful to have recorded evidence of someone’s location at the time of posting a tweet? Perhaps an employee frequently calls in sick, and then tweets from the beach. A cheating spouse claims to be at a conference, but tweets from another city. A stalker or abusive spouse under a restraining order tweets from in front of your client’s residence.

Beyond the geo-tagging described above, location-based social networking sites like Yelp, Foursquare, Gowalla, Facebook Places, and Twitter Places include a game-like quality that entices participants to activate a geotag to “check-in” at certain locations. Participants can use the check-ins to locate friends in the area, to find out what’s “hot” at the moment, and to post tips and reviews. Some offer “badges” and titles, such as “mayor” of that location, as tokens of achievement in completing a check-in circuit or as recognition for frequent patronage. Restaurants, theaters, art museums and other businesses offer participants discounts and freebies when they check in, which results in sort of a frequent flyer program with word-of-mouth buzz for the business.

Why would lawyers care about that? In addition to some of the geotagging issues suggested above, there are a number of other potential uses in a legal matter. Could it be helpful in a divorce case to have a record of how often someone checked in at a bar? Perhaps a personal injury attorney could find potential witnesses to a car accident by tracking down people who checked in at nearby businesses around the time of the accident. Could a Foursquare check-in substantiate an alibi in a criminal case?

What other creative uses of geo-tagging (intentional or unintentional) do you think lawyers will come up with?


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