Why I Deleted My Foursquare Account

Shea Sylvia, a Kansas City web geek and early adopter of shiny new internet tools, wrote on her blog in July 2010 that she was creeped out while eating at a restaurant with friends — when the hostess came over and told her she had a phone call.

Shea recollected that conversation.

But when I answered the phone, I didn’t recognize the voice on the other end.

“Hello?”

“Hey Shea. This is Brian.”

“Who?”

I racked my brain, trying to figure out who I knew named “Brian”.

“I saw that you checked in there on Foursquare, Shea,” he said.

My heart started to race. I’ve read articles about burglaries and stalking thanks to Foursquare, but because I only occasionally link my check-ins with tweets, I figured I was being responsible. Standing at the front desk of a restaurant on the phone with a complete stranger was the absolute last thing I expected from a harmless tweet about meeting friends from the internet and a link to my location.

“I like to hang out with people from the internet too. Maybe we should hang out sometime. What do you think about that?” Brian asked.

“Ok…” I said unconvincingly.

“Maybe we could ride bikes together.”

“Ok…”

And then he said, “Is this getting creepy?”

“Yeah, this is a little creepy,” I replied, looking around the restaurant, hoping I’d spot someone on their phone. No luck.

“You probably shouldn’t be telling people where you are on Foursquare, should you, Shea?” he said.

I was trying not to cry at this point. And then I hung up.

That blog post led to her retelling it in the Guardian. People insulted her in the comments of both places, and one commenter turned violent when he sent this random girl an email threat about raping her.

Scary stuff.

I recounted Shea’s story last week during a telephone conversation with Boston Globe reporter Beth Teitell, who was researching angles about the rise in location-based social networking sites.

While my interview didn’t make the final cut, Carissa O’Brien‘s was featured.

“My daughter and I were doing the March for Babies walk,’’ said O’Brien, 33, “and when I stopped in at the Mass. General tent at the Hatch Shell, someone said ‘Are you Carissa?’ ’’

“It was a little odd,’’ she said, temporarily forgetting that she had brought the situation on herself. Her first act upon arriving at the fund-raising walk, after all, had been to pull out her smartphone and “check in’’ on Foursquare, a mobile application that lets her tell the world, or at least part of it, where she is, and, thanks to the photo she uploaded, what she looks like.

I’ve met Carissa many times. We were first introduced about a year ago when MC Hammer and Gary Vaynerchuk came to town to talk at the Gravity Summit.

I agree with Steve Garfield (who was also interviewed in Beth’s story) that Foursquare is valuable. I created an account earlier this year, and I have since written about Foursquare many times.

But I deleted my account this week.

I’m hardly alone. Alex Wilhelm, Chris Conrey, Jason Grigsby, and Morgan McLintic are just a few people Google pointed me to who deleted their accounts, too.

I recognize the positive vibes of sharing your location with friends; but even if you make your check-ins private and only friends can see them, if you check-in to a location and someone searches for that location, that person sees you — and whatever photograph and biographical information attached to your profile.

For every Carissa and Steve, I also think of Shea.

There is a benefit for businesses to know their customers, and Foursquare can build customer satisfaction. People are checking into places and sharing their whereabouts with the world.

Geolocation is hot, but I don’t need to have a Foursquare account to evangelize its importance.

Maybe I’ll create an account again in the future. But for now, I’ve had enough. I don’t want the world anymore to know where I am, unless I tell them.

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