Apps of the Week finds top location-based apps

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Millions celebrated the second annual Foursquare Day April 16 by checking into venues across the globe. The New York City based company had a lot to celebrate as well: more than 20 million members checked into more than 2 billion places, and half of those check-ins were in the last eight months, according to Bizreport.com.

Location-based apps are becoming increasingly popular as users check into venues, see photos and read restaurant reviews in the vicinity and get directions from their smartphones and tablets.

Social media platforms like Facebook and Google+ are including their own check-in features, and many users tweet or post their check-ins. Foursquare recently revamped their app to recommend places based upon your check-ins and friend recommendations, among other new features.

Jenn Nash, a sophomore engineering student at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis., uses location-based apps for GPS, weather and finding places to eat when out with friends. Nash commuted more than an hour to her classes for a semester and said the GPS app Waze made the drive easier.

“Waze gave me information like how fast traffic was going or if there was an accident near me,” she said. “It was real time data that seemed way more useful than most traffic reports.”

However, not everyone is willing to give up their privacy to access the convenience of these apps. Ethan Mackey, an English major from Springville, said he uses his iPhone throughout the day but has turned off all of his location-based services.

“I just don’t like the idea of my location being known, whether it’s a person or a device,” he said.

Mackey uses cloud services like iCloud and Dropbox, but said he considers whether he wants something shared before putting it online.

Many people don’t know that their location and other information can be publicly shared, and often don’t change the settings on apps like Facebook and Foursquare, which tracks user activity, including current location. However, privacy settings can be changed easily, and many users continue the use of location-based services for a variety of purposes. Foursquare is continually growing from the 2 billion check-ins they recently touted.

For those wanting to use location-based services, here are some apps worth checking into:

Yelp: This app features member reviews on a variety of venues. Users can search for restaurants, shops, gas stations and other places nearby and access ratings with a few taps. Yelp is also known for finding and reviewing cities’ hidden gems.

Waze: Most GPS apps for Apple and Android come with a hefty price, but Waze is a free GPS app powered by its members. As part of the social platform, members enter traffic information as well as construction updates, enabling others to benefit.

ParkMe: This app works best in cities, and uses location to find a map of the closest parking spots nearby. Along with the map, each spot contains information about the lot with its cost to park.

Sonar: A newer app, Sonar shows users their friends within the nearby vicinity, along with other individuals they might want to network with. Locations are pulled from Foursquare, Facebook and LinkedIn, making this Apple app a potential business tool as well.

What do you think about location-based apps? Are they useful and convenient, or do they pose a significant privacy concern? Tell us what you think on Facebook and Twitter.

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