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Highlight – Cool or Spooky?

2012 March 8
by Rick

I keep reading about Highlight and how it’s going to be the big thing at SXSW. It’s an iPhone app that connects to your Facebook account and if you leave it running it will tell you when you are near people that share “likes” and “friends” with you (that are also running the app of course).

I’m still pretty picky about what I’ll give access to my Facebook account, but I decided to give it a try and see what all the hype is about. I installed it last week while I was up in Tahoe. As I expected, nothing happened. Not even skiing at Squaw, I guess skiers aren’t up on to the “hip” new fad yet.  But as soon as I pulled in to San Francisco yesterday afternoon my phone started beeping at me.  By the end of the evening, after going out for dinner, I had been “near” 6 Highlight users.

I can see the attraction, it’s kinda cool to see people that share interests with you that are nearby.  I could certainly see how it could be fun if you were out socializing at a bar or coffee shop.  But I also think it’s a little creepy.  I suggested to them that there should be an option that automatically turns it off when you are at home.  It would be pretty easy for someone to figure out where your home is as this thing beeps as they walk by (I’m pretty sure I know where one user lives after walking home from the restaurant last night).

It also reminds me of a joke I played back when Facebook check in was first introduced.  I was at my favorite taco place up in Tahoe and I checked in on Facebook.  I noticed that another person was also checked in and saw her sitting at the table in front of the restaurant.  So,  I went up to her, greeted her by name, and started asking her how things had been, what she was up to, pretending like we obviously knew each other.  She looked uncomfortable and played along for a few minutes before finally asking “do I know you?”  I said no of course and explained that I got her name off Facebook and thought it would be funny.  Yeah…spooky more like it.

I’m skeptical of applications like Highlight (it is one of many that do the same basic thing, apparently the best according to the talking heads of Silicon Valley and SXSW).  Again, maybe when I’m out on Friday night at the bar, or at happy hour downtown in SOMA, but I just don’t see why I want to broadcast out where I am to strangers on a regular basis.  I can already hear the stories about kids getting caught skipping school, employees getting caught taking sick days (or up a the ski hill when they were supposed to be working), and hit men using it to track down their target.  I know there is a younger generation out there that is less concerned about their privacy then I am (and I generally believe privacy is a myth in this day and age), but I’m having a hard time seeing these passive tracking applications really gaining traction.  It’s one thing to actively check in somewhere, it’s another to have the phone doing it for you.

Who knows, maybe I’m wrong.  And all that said, I’m gonna leave it running through the weekend…



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