March 24, 2012, 7:48 AM — The desire to be cool and embrace new technologies definitely overtook the desire to be safe with the very buzzy mobile, location-based apps on view at South by Southwest this year . You've got to love a smartphone app that broadcasts all sorts of information about you -- your likes, your age, your job -- to everyone within sight who has the same app. Because it reduces friction, right? It makes it easier to meet that good-looking guy or girl right over there who shares your love of kiteboarding and Gorillaz. You can cut down lame conversations about things you have no interest in at all.
The hype says these apps are all about possibility. But when reality sets in, you start to think about probability. For example, the probability that a certain percentage of the people who look appealing to you when apps like Glancee or Highlight bring them to your attention are going to be, well, creeps -- or worse. The probability that apps like these are putting out more information about you than you're really comfortable with. The probability that your privacy, once compromised, will never be whole again.
CNN's Soledad O'Brien, who is easily the most tech-savvy mainstream news anchor, summarized such apps best as "creepy." The Harvard-educated O'Brien interviewed Paul Davison, the young CEO of Highlight , and she was quick to ask him about the creepiness factor.
Davison, who looks like an undergraduate but actually earned his MBA five years ago, was more interested in gushing about the coolness of the app, but he did answer O'Brien's questions about privacy. Tellingly, though, the first and most effective privacy safeguard that Davison cited was that "Highlight is entirely opt-in." To me, this sounds like an admission that the only real way to protect your privacy when it comes to Highlight is to not install it on your phone in the first place. Maybe we are meant to feel grateful that Highlight is giving us the option of not using the app.
You shouldn't think of this as a case of an inexperienced executive stumbling when the camera lights went on. Davison said much the same thing in another interview, with whatstrending.com's Shira Lazar .