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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Comments

  1. says

    Ari, even with people I actually know, I usually don’t care whether or not they’re at Trader Joe’s buying something exotic and tasty, and they’re usually someplace far less interesting.

    I think Foursquare and services like it are one more way for people to squander valuable life capital (= time and energy) with overuse of technology. I’ve stopped following some people on Twitter, and hidden some people on Facebook, who do frequent location updates. I’m already bombarded with thousands of bits of incoming information a day — I don’t need even more, especially geolocation information.

    And, of course, there is the very real problem you highlight in this post: people you don’t know — and may not want to know — finding you at that location you just broadcast.

  2. says

    While I understand and respect your decision to delete your account, bear in mind that the service does not update with your location unless you tell it to, and it is more secure than Facebook Places which by default allows others to check you into places whether you allow them to or not. (I’m aware that you can turn this feature off, I did immediately!)

    I think Foursquare is a wonderful tool that can be utilized even for the privacy focused – in cases such as conventions and conferences, for instance.

    • Ari Herzog says

      …the service does not update with your location

      Huh? You mean sharing a check-in to Facebook/Twitter? It’s not possible to otherwise check-in to a location and not show the location.

      • says

        I meant it doesn’t automatically track you via GPS and post your whereabouts to the world. You must actively and specifically decide to share your location and traverse t0 the check-in screen.

        • Ari Herzog says

          Color me dumb, but what’s the purpose of using a website that is built to share where you are with other people — if you don’t share where you are? Just to rack up mayor badges?

          • says

            You can check in to a chain or generic store or venue, and say their burgers are the best. You don’t need to say which one (from a chain point of view).

            As Geoff says, it’s like anything – our public sharing is how we set it.

          • says

            That is my point. If you don’t want people to know where you are, don’t use the service. There isn’t much need to debate the safety of those of us that prefer to share, simply not using the service will protect you.

            If you click that check-in button, it’s you that’s putting yourself out there, not foursquare.

    • says

      I agree Geoff… But a smarter way to go about it would be to allow you to connect with your Facebook fan-page instead of your personal profile. This way its advocating for the organization, not an individual. The only problem with this is, it defeats the goal of Foursquare (Loyal customer following/ tracking).

      • Ari Herzog says

        That also requires a Facebook Page the ability to like any website, not just Profiles to like.

  3. says

    I use Foursquare sporadically. I never use it when I am out alone. The only other times I use it are when I’m close to home and won’t be gone long or when I know my neighbors, who practically live on top of us and are nosy beyond belief, are home. I could probably be mayor of a few more places if I used it consistently but safety is more important to me.

    Even without Foursquare, Gowalla and other location based apps we often give away where we are and what we are doing through Twitter and other forms of social media. It’s up to the individual user to be ever vigilant regarding what they are putting out into the webosphere. This topic may give you and others a better idea why I’ve chosen to participate in new media as a social media guinea pig. Most people couldn’t be bothered to find out who I am really am and I like it that way.

    • Ari Herzog says

      One could argue the very use of mobile devices — which are usually seen when viewing someone’s update on Twitter or Facebook — is indication one is not home.

      • Lacy Moore says

        I use my mobile device while sitting on the couch at home, so whether I use my mobile device or not is not necessarily any indication of whether I am home.

    • says

      Pecan,
      Good advise on this subject. Safety is important, especially when we are sharing our locations.

  4. says

    Isn’t the real question- WHY are you broadcasting where you are? What is the point?
    I’ve been trying 4square and other than to promote a business on my end (ie, where I work etc) or to help a business (much like a coupon)- what’s the point? I know someone who checks into her own home and that is just silly to me…

  5. says

    This is an eerie revelation. I have read that there is a site dedicated to promoting information from Facebook about people who are away on vacation etc..

    • Ari Herzog says

      Yes, I’d read about that site too.. and then Foursquare’s blog ripped its concerns.

  6. says

    Foursquare has been a tricky subject for me, an addicted small business owner and family person. I really like Foursquare, but as I try to explain to my family it’s full of dangers. This is just a hint at what a bad Foursquare situation could be like, a hint.

  7. says

    Ari –
    All valid points. For a while I was skeptical of geo-location sites. I see a lot of the benefits, but there is a lot of downside as well. One of the things that scares me about them is that we have not seen the worst of Crime 2.0 yet. I have a feeling that these sites will have similar stories to Craigslist in the months and years to come.

    I remember seeing the first story months back and it gave me chills. One thing that folks may be able to do is to check in on the way out or make the choice like you to get rid of an account.

    One system that scares me more than most is Google’s Latitude which does not get much love in the SM space, but is something that you kind of opt-into on when you set up an android phone and doesn’t require checkins at all.

    Will I stop using these programs, probably not, but I still don’t want my wife using them.

  8. says

    I guess I am ahead of the game because I never even signed up for foursquare. Truthfully, I do not understand all the hype. I guess I really do not care where people are or what they are doing. I have gone my whole life without caring, why would I suddenly care about that now.

  9. says

    I have never understood this stuff. Why on earth would you want to tell the world that you’re not at home? I’m very pleased to hear you deleted your Four Square account Ari. I see so little benefit to these location-based tools at the moment. I absolutely agree with you: when I want people to know where I am, I’ll tell them. Not only do they pose a security risk to people, but they annoy the f**k out of other people who have to read their ‘check-ins.’ If I want to know where YOU are, I’ll ask.

    • Ari Herzog says

      Scroll through comments above to see the why. Geoff tries to explain it.

      The thing is, I grasp the benefit for businesses to know who’s checking in at their locations, but that means a person needs to do it.

    • Ari Herzog says

      For that matter, you could check-in to a week’s worth of places in a single sitting. But that’s not really the point, either, is it?

      • says

        I disagree. I don’t check in to a weeks worth in one go. For my safety I check in when I’m getting ready to go. I was legitimately there but I don’t want people stalking me.

        • Jae says

          So, by admitting this, have you not just told the planet that if they want to stalk you, this is how to do it? Foursquare and such make it a lot easier for people to stalk, but if they want to do it, there are other methods. Don’t think for a minute that your method is actually prevention and protection. It isn’t.

  10. says

    I’d say that’s all to be expected. Anything you do online is traceable and trackable. We don’t have privacy anymore, so if don’t want someone to find you, stay off the grid. This is doubled, maybe tripled when you actually become popular, then you enter the celebrity zone where stalkers become a bit fanatic.

    She’s lucky, and a bit ignorant I guess, I mean, it’s bound to happen when you tell the world everything about you and your whereabouts. lol

    • Ari Herzog says

      I know plenty of people off the grid. Try googling them, zilch. But they’re the minority today — and in the future, nonexistent.

  11. says

    I never signed up for that mess either. I don’t need people knowing where I’m at. If I wanted them to know, they’d be with me already. I always thought foursquare was kind of creepy (but that’s what happens when you watch Law & Order: SVU) and never bothered to create an account there.

    • Ari Herzog says

      Turning it around, would you want a company to know you’re shopping in their store so much a web tool gave you a “mayor” badge?

      • says

        I wouldn’t. If a company wants my loyalty, they’d better give me something of value. I’m not so full of myself that simple ego stroking is going to do it. And weighing that against the risks? Screw their fad marketing. They’ve been reaching me and everyone else effectively long before geolocation, and they will long after most of the hype has died down (or when they find safer ways to get consumers involved).

  12. says

    There is an easy fix that Foursquare and other services can implement.

    Delay.

    You could post the locations you checked in with a 24-hour delay. Of course people will still be able to get a sense of your daily schedule, unless you are lucky to have a changing or unpredictable routine. Perhaps you could add a configurable amount of randomization in the mix. I got this idea from some travel bloggers that use a multi-month delay in posting, to avoid surprises from shifty readers of their blog.

    • Ari Herzog says

      If you can check-in to any place at any time, and not necessarily while you are there in real-time, then why check-in in the first place? To get a badge?

  13. says

    First off, if you don’t want to share your location, check-in “of the grid” – which, as Ari said, is pointless to do on an LBS.

    Second, the story & the person described in the story who called Shea, sounds fake. Here’s why: “Brian” would have had to

    A.) Be friends with her on FS to see her check-in; highly unlikely one of her friends would make a call like that. (if it was someone she knew just pretending, he’s just a dick.)

    B.) Assuming she published her update to twitter & Facebook, Brian would have had to be following Shea and/or be friends with her to catch wind of her update. Again, if he was a friend or follower & did this, he’s definitely a dick & she probably wouldn’t have shared a connection with him as this type of behavior would already have been discovered.

    C.) If Brian didn’t satisfiy any of the above, he would have to be classified as a professional stalker as he would have been monitoring the public streams to find her updates. However, if he was a pro, he would have already infiltrated her social sphere with a false persona. That’s where some sign of freak behavior would have already been discovered.

    Sorry, but I call bullshit on this entire story. Get back on a location service, check-in & share your location with your network – you’ll get more attention without the drama. And, if you’re still worried about sharing your info, simply don’t check-in at lame locations – nobody cares about the sidewalk cafe you’re at. Except the business owners, that’s who this is all about, not you!)

  14. says

    I have never actually used foursquare.. so all I can give is my impressions…

    It seems to me that we need to come up with ideas about how to use these tools safely.. what are the risks.. and also I think the designers of these tools need to think about this a good deal to.. it’s more vital the Facebook.. as far making privacy management simple and obvious.. and yet.. at least to my knowledge.. there’s never been as much of a privacy uproar about foursquare as there has with facebook…

    Having not used foursquare I obviously can’t comment on.. how you use it safely.. or the relative implications of this or that privacy management tactic.. or when it might be safer or less safe to manage this way or that.. or how well any of this works in practice..

    But that’s what my gut says to think about.. and that once you’ve thought it through that it’s probably fine and dandy.. just another risk management issue in our lives..

    • Nick says

      “It seems to me that we need to come up with ideas about how to use these tools safely.. ”

      Idea #1: Don’t use them.

      • Ari Herzog says

        I grant Matt that abstinence may not be the best way to go, but I grant you that it may. Quite the dilemma, eh?

  15. says

    While there are some merits of Foursquare (like I use it to check interesting places near my current location), it certainly is a double edged sword. Stalkers and people with malicious intentions can use it for their means, as observed in this article. In my opinion, Foursqaure should be used with caution, just like any other public service.

  16. says

    I mostly use it when I am at a conference – I find it useful in those cases, because I want to be found when I am there. So, if I am at a bar after a day of conference activities, somebody from the conference coming over is a welcome surprise visit.

        • Ari Herzog says

          And did they all come to join specifically because of your announcement, or because they spotted you?

          • says

            They came because of my announcement – a couple groups of people said they turned up there, because they saw it on Foursquare.

            The same thing happened in August at a conference in NYC. This is the best reason to use it for me – I don’t want to know if my local Pizza Hut has a $2 off coupon through Foursquare.

          • says

            Yes, but as a conference organizer, Foursquare isn’t such an elegant solution, since I can’t claim a hotel address as my venue to offer specials.

            I’d love to see them provide a way for events to temporarily make deals available at a given address.

          • says

            I’ve been able to create a venue, but not claim one. The verification process would not accept my phone number as the number for the venue.

  17. says

    Gulp. Well, I’m selective about who I connect with on Foursquare and I usually check in after I’ve left. It’s fun using it … but …

  18. says

    I’d actually like to see some research into how many Foursquare users are fully *aware* of how public their check-ins are – and how fully they understand how their entire profile can be triangulated – photos, tweets, opinions, interests, etc.

    I won’t say here whether geolocation services are good or bad per se, but I would like to see some validated data on how much users know about these services (FS, FB, etc.).

    If anybody has any data, by all means: pass it along. :)

    Phil

  19. MarketingCMI says

    The stories in your blog post remind me of my mother telling me not to go out by myself at night and if I have to, then I should park under a street light and check under my car before getting in, in case there is someone underneath ready to cut my achilles tendon.
    There is risk in life. People die in local car accidents every day. Should I not drive?
    Unfortunately there are unbalanced people who make poor choices and naive people who post unnecessary information for the whole world to see.
    I take the risk when I open myself up by using a LBS (or driving to work). I ask myself at every check-in if I want the whole world to know what I’m doing right now. If the answer is yes, then you will see my post. (I mentally prepare myself every morning before commuting to work as I live in the most densely populated state.)
    There are risks associated with commenting on this blog post (outlined in the comment policy).
    I’m reminded by one of my most favorite movies to get out and take some risks (which for this fictional main character turn out OK.)
    “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Ferris Bueller

    • Ari Herzog says

      Life has many risks built into it. Are you implying anyone who knowingly uses these tools accepts those risks regardless what happens?

  20. says

    I remember reading a story of a female newspaper reporter who was raped shortly after checking in to her hotel. Turns out that she had mentioned in her previous article that she would be going to a certain city to cover a sporting event. She happened to mention in the article that she would be staying at her favourite hotel. She set herself up to be easily found.

    This was in 1978. The technology was different but the possibility was there. The simple fact is, there are malicious people everywhere and there always has been. We need to assess our own situation and do as we see fit.

    As someone that’s fairly private, I do broadcast some of my Foursquare checkins. I always checkin on my way out and refrain from broadcasting unless I want to be found. I like to checkin at cool places, events or some places that I am loyal to and want to give free advertising.

    It’s like any other tool, it’s only effective when used properly.

  21. says

    I think bottom-line it comes down to being fully aware of what you are doing online. If you aren’t aware of the size of your digital footprint, then you should invest in understanding it immediately. Once that footprint crosses over into the real world, if you aren’t prepared, then you are in trouble.

    It’s the same with Myspace years ago. Every news station was warning of the dangers, the kidnappings, the stalkings, every one of them casting a stigma on the company, whereas if children (and their parents) were just smart with what they shared, then there wouldn’t have been a problem.

    Either way, if you don’t want your information out there, don’t let it out.

    • says

      I don’t know.. I mean I agree and disagree…

      We are.. kinda a part of the technorati.. so like.. we take a certain amount of sophistication with these tools, and understanding there various implications… kinda for granted. And even among us.. well.. we can be sorta unaware.. particularly when we are talking about emerging technologies like foursquare.. I mean early adopter is another is another word for ginny pig..

      But you go out side of the world of the uber informed.. and.. well I think maybe its somewhat complicated but techo-behavior patterns vary..

      And then you get into sorta weird things like.. “should you put that naked photo of you doing that thing.. online” and.. well sure.. probably not a good idea.. but imagine if you will.. that you belonged to.. well say a different socio-economic group.. and the chances of that coming up in your next job interview for.. who knows what kinda job.. it being far away from our techology world.. is probably pretty slim.. and anyway.. why not… and hey.. maybe that’s what all the “cool kids” in your peer group are doing anyway, right?

      And then you get to that issue of.. that statistically speaking.. we are all deviants.. that is that some set of parameters of our personality, behavior, inclinations, shoe size and whatever else.. deviates from the norm… but it’s the invisibility of the deviation.. and the isolation that often results of it.. that is a big part of what creates the social norms that make it a problem in the first place, right?

      It’s more complicated then all that.. but.. I think we have to be careful to not take our own yard sticks too seriously..

  22. says

    People always have a valid argument at either side of the fence when it comes to these things. I believe Foursquare like any other media has its pros and cons, so we all have to be aware about them before we ever sign up for them. If you value your privacy, then don’t. If you think they can help your business, then go. Just think twice about the risks you are taking before you check in your location on Foursquare. If they are more than the gains, then…

    Anyways, thanks for the post, Ari. This calls to attention a really arguable issue about the responsible use of social media.

    – Wes -

  23. harryh says

    Sorry to see you go. I hope you’ll change your mind at some point in the future, in the mean time no hard feelings and thx for your thoughts. Once quick clarification though:

    > 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.

    This is true by default, but can easily be changed from the settings page on the website by unchecking the “Show me in the ‘Who’s here’ list in the mobile app” box.

    -harryh, foursquare

    • Ari Herzog says

      Take a look at Phil Baumann’s comment above. Any insight into how many users are aware of the questions he asks?

  24. says

    I have to be honest in that, even as a social media specialist and Virtual Assistant, I’m intensely leery of location-based services. Having been stalked and harassed in the past without even using any location based tools, I cannot imagine even at my most optimistic time ever doing that.

    I do not recommend it to my clients nor do I support it because it’s quite simply a safety risk. The internet is not a roses-and-rainbows safe place (as evidenced by the large number of child pornography sites, bullying and suicide related issues, and the rash of burglaries as a result of location-based services that have been covered in the media) and while the innocent idea of sharing your location with friends is valid, until they can make it so ONLY the people I choose can see my location, I’ll avoid the service for safety sake. I recommend any females in particular, who are automatically more vulnerable, do so as well. If you have small children (or children in general) it can be an issue for them as well. Many naive people in the beginning undoubtedly thought me paranoid but are now starting to see the issues. What really scares me is the idea of children using these tools.

    Great post and I’m glad to see you were smart enough to realize the safety risk and not only stop, but also share it with the world through the power of the pen.

  25. says

    I think it’s important to keep in mind that social networking apps only know what you tell them. I check in at venues, but for the most part I do not check in at retail establishments. Occasionally, I’ll check in somewhere (such as a restroom) as a joke.

    I think with foursquare, it’s wise not to use an actual photo of yourself. It prevents people from walking up to you and knowing who you are. As far as people knowing I’m not home, I rent out an extra bedroom and it’s likely he’s here, or there’s the fact that they’d have to be able to get into the building and know which unit is mine in the first place. I didn’t tell foursquare that.

    Also, I check into places in my immediate neighborhood most often, to help promote businesses owned by friends and to help promote the area in which I live, which is springing back to life when many thought it never would.

    “It only knows what you tell it!”

    • Ari Herzog says

      By venues, you refer to events? You’ll check into someone’s birthday party but not where it is?

  26. says

    Well it was obviously someone she accepted as a friend on Foursquare. Simple answer is don’t let people into your networks you don’t know or trust.

  27. says

    The phone book lists your home address and phone number. It has been doing that for decades. That is even more creepy than Foursquare.

    The phone book is opt out. It lists your home, not just where will be for a short period of time.

    We view new technology as scary, but there are low tech things we have been doing for years which are just as scary if you think about it.

    • Ari Herzog says

      How is looking up someone’s phone number creepy? Why else would one buy a telephone in 1980 if nobody calls?

  28. rebecca says

    I personally have never been drawn to 4Sq. I think most people use it to “show off” the places they frequent and frankly, I have NEVER known anyone to use it for it’s intended purpose- to meet up with friends. I know 1 person that has an account and he uses it to check in at work, even at home, giving away the name of their apartment complex. I think that’s way too creepy. It’s useless technology.

    • Ari Herzog says

      The irony of your comment is I never considered Foursquare to be used to connect with friends, but to inform property owners of people on their property. Like Yelp.

  29. says

    Ari —

    Good points all, and interesting discussion.

    I’ve kept my Foursquare account, only in that I want want to minimize the possibility that someone else might claim they’re me and exploit “my” location in some way. I’ve disabled all the functionality and never had much info in the account to begin with.

    And, no, I don’t care for the Facebook “Places” functionality, either.

    I realize I’m not the only “Daniel Brenton” in the world, but I am absolutely certain there’s only one Daniel Brenton remotely like this one.

    – Daniel

  30. says

    I don’t have a home phone, I don’t publish my address online anywhere, and I don’t even have my cell number on the business page of my website. I only check into Foursquare when I’m with people I know, or in a public place, and when I lived alone, I would actually only check in a few minutes after I left. I liked having the record of where I’d been and what I did and reading about the fun other people were having, but it seemed smarter.

    Now, however, I do business development and PR for the company I work for now, I have my name listed on their website as a point of contact. The address of the building I work in is on the website. Anyone who wanted to could come at any time during office hours and ask to see me, or call their published number and ask to talk to me. That’s nine hours of my day or more that I’m accessible to anyone who might feel like looking for me.

    If someone wants to follow me, they wouldn’t need me to check in on Foursquare to find me — it’s all right there.

    So I guess, to be truly careful, I should only work at jobs where I could be totally anonymous and where the address was unlisted, or never tell anyone where I worked.

    But while I’m at it, I’d have to be sure never to be listed on an RSVP list online, or sign up via an Eventbrite, or speak publicly of meeting others online (even if *I* don’t broadcast where I am), lest they check into Foursquare, or happen to mention they’re hanging out with *me*.

    And no mentioning Starbucks or food I eat from chains, or anything I bought at a store, because someone might go look for me in one of their locations, knowing I enjoy those things — and just in locations near the address where I work! Who knows might be waiting for me to show up and order my latte??

    Also, I wouldn’t speak of the weather, because that might indicate a little about where you are. Stalkers could just follow the rain clouds if I said I was out with my umbrella! (Okay, now I’m kidding… :)

    Seriously, though: if someone wants to find you and creep you out, they will. Stalkers didn’t have a hard time of it before LBS were invented, and the vast majority of stalking or assault cases have *nothing* to do with LBS. And LBS are not the only way we reveal too much information about ourselves online, either.

    Just think. Be smart. Use things with an eye to your safety, but don’t get caught up in alarmist discussions because of a few isolated incidents.

    • Ari Herzog says

      Great points, Meg. I’m fond of saying that if a burglar wants to steal your car, it will be stolen — even if it means towing the damn thing and figuring out how to disalarm the system later.

  31. says

    You’re completely right on with this article, though your gold is your last word: I don’t want the world to know where I am, unless I tell them. That’s what any of these services are: a CHOICE.

    Many gladly trade a “special” for privacy. That’s their choice. Is it creepy that a stranger can find you based on social media? Yep. But no less intentional on Foursquare than on your blog. If you don’t want folks to “know” you, then that’s your choice.

    Just don’t blame a service for making it easy.

    Blame the people who choose to share every intimate detail of their life online.

  32. Ari Herzog says

    Is there a difference between an online and offline friend? I mean, when sharing you’re not home or boarding an airplane, you’d tell that to the world?

  33. says

    I like foursquare. Still have an account and plan, for now, to keep it; however, this post points out some extremely valid dangers of using this location-based service. I’m fairly certain that terrible instances of stalking, threats, robberies, etc. are extremely limited, but the “extremely limited” doesn’t mean “non-existent.” They do exist. That being the case, there is a case for quitting, or at least altering usage.

    I’ll admit, I’ve been a foursquare cheater. Often, I’ll check-in when leaving, or after leaving a location. The 4sq mobile app sometimes won’t let me do that, but often it does. I also don’t check-in everywhere. I do these things because I’m cognizant that people up to no good are out there. Wise use of 4sq should, in my estimation, include a user being aware of their own situation and how they can be most safe. A person doesn’t have to do what I do, but use it to fit there own situation.

    I use it for business purposes, as another tool to keep me fresh in the minds of those I connect with. Using it for that purpose doesn’t require me to do many check-ins. I could simply use the Tips feature, which would bring up my tips whenever someone checked-in at a location close to them.

    There are lots of ways to be safer with 4sq, and, yes, one option, the only fool-proof way, is to stop using it. It is a viable method.

    Great post and one people need to see.

    Alan

  34. says

    Oh my gosh. This article made my skin crawl. I have friends who are avid users of foursquare, but I’ve never seen the charm in it. I think I’ll be sharing this…

    • Ari Herzog says

      There are benefits to Foursquare, don’t get me wrong. But there are also aspects that, well, make one’s skin crawl.

  35. says

    I used Foursquare once or twice at local establishments when I first discovered it. Even then, I was uber paranoid and the places I checked in were ones I didn’t go to often, and I checked in when I was in the parking lot getting ready to leave.

    Since then, I’ve only used it at conferences. During Blog World, I checked in to the conference venue and a few of the public meetup locations. I figure they are places I am with a pretty large group of people, and also places I’m looking to be found by others, maybe readers who follow me on Twitter. At the same time, even that could lead to trouble, as Vegas was a pretty big place and anyone could easily get a cab and follow you back to your hotel. Definitely something to consider.

    • Ari Herzog says

      Hmm. You don’t care about the badges, then, eh? It’s just for people to know you’re in a room?

  36. Noel Fisher says

    I think that the average Twitter or Facebook mobile user underestimates the amount of location infromation they braodcast, regardless of whether or not they use Foursquare, Where, Gowalla, Whrrl or any other LBS. If you have the name of your company, your real name and your photo associated with your Twitter account, it wouldn’t take much to find you on any given work day. People already say things like “At such and such event” that essentially broadcast their location. Most times, your location is a simple matter of logic and a Google search away.
    I think the point with LBS, as with any other social media tool, is simply to be careful. Some users only check in when leaving a place so as to avoid unpleasent encounters. I have the option when checking in to hide my location, only share my location on Foursquare, only share it on Facebook (which I have a pretty high privacy filter on) or send it out to Twitter, where it will be very public. Profile pictures can be changed so that you can’t be easily spotted. I only check into places like bars or restaurants when I’m with someone else or part of a large group. I’m not particularly concerned about being approached. I know that I’ve had plenty of creepy people approach me without being prompted by Foursquare. Being appraoched by creepy people is simply the chance everyone takes when they leave their house every morning.
    I have had the pleasure of having friends come and meet up with me after I’ve checked into certain venues. It was a pleasent surprise in every way, and it makes me more likely to check in again.
    There was a time when using your real name on the internet was unheard of and considered risky. There was a time when banking online was unheard of and was considered risky. I think that LBS is simply a new tool, and there are going to be people who make mistakes with it, but at the end of the day I consider the advantages to outweigh the risks. I also think that only active users are able to understand, critique, and help improve a certain technology, and that’s why I won’t be deleting my Foursquare account.

  37. says

    Thanks for starting this interesting conversation. There were lots of great comments on both sides. I don’t yet have a smartphone, so can’t speak about 4sq with authority, but the very concept has always made me nervous. I’m not sure my friends care where I am, so don’t know that I’d post. I’m not sure I WANT everyone to know where I am – and that’s just on an anecdotal basis, let alone the very frightening, potential security risk.
    I’d like to understand better why fans love it. I saw Danny Brown’s response, and do believe that if he sees value, there must be some (for business anyway). But does the value outweigh the risk to security, privacy and the simple potential to bore your audience to death with reports of places you were…but have possibly left before you even post it? There’s much more to explore here. Thanks for raising the issue!
    Laura

  38. says

    You know, the more I’ve thought about this the more I’ve wondered. As a society, have we gotten so lazy/busy/etc that we must be efficient all the time, even in our social interactions? Call me old fashioned, but what happened to the other methods of arranging a gathering? Like picking up the phone and contacting people? Or even using email/texting? I can see some benefits but the risks seem, in my mind, to outweigh them pretty heavily. I think as teenagers develop and this type of social media becomes more prevalent we make it easier for predators to target the innocent and unprotected. But this has definitely been a fascinating conversation to watch and take part in.

    • Ari Herzog says

      Heh, I like to pick up the phone and call people. Even better, I like seeing them in person, knocking on the doors.

      On a sidenote, isn’t it amusing a smartphone has the word phone in it? Call it a computer all you want, but you’re required to have a voice plan before a data plan.

    • Noel Fisher says

      I don’t think it has anything to do with laziness, I think it has more to do with formality. It used to be that the only way you could invite anyone anywhere was to issue them a written or in-person invitation. Now, that’s reserved for only more formal events.
      If I’m at a bar, I don’t know which of my friends may be in the area, or free at the time, so posting my location is a very passive way of saying “I’m here in case you’re around and want to meet up.” In most cases, when I check in I’ll get a text from someone asking me if I’m still there because they think they might pop in. This has happened with friends who I wouldn’t have texted because I wasn’t int heir neighborhood or near their work, so I’d have no reason to believe they might be around.
      And I’m one of those people who dislikes talking on the phone. I’m a visual person who has an easier time communicating through the written word and visuals than over the telephone.

  39. says

    I used to be a Foursquare freak, checking in wherever I’d go. The reason was I attended a lot of networking events with my LA Tech crowd so we competed on check-ins and whatnot. At the time it was fun I suppose. Earning one badge then another, etc. Now that’s just not the case and really, I’m not too interested.

    I still use Foursquare at conferences and events. If I *want* people to know where I am, I’ll check in. Likewise, I want to know where other people are so I’ll check my Twitter account and Foursquare to see where the action is.

    Do you *have* to check in everywhere all the time? No. I certainly don’t in my day-to-day. I don’t need people to know that I just checked in to the Restroom at Jerry’s Famous Deli.

    Now, some of my friends are concerned about their safety as in the examples referenced above in your post. It’s a valid concern too. Still, they want to play the Foursquare game only they check-in after they’ve left the establishment as opposed to while they’re there.

    All of that to say that I won’t be deleting my Foursquare account soon. I still attend lots of events and I want to make myself accessible to an extent. Foursquare facilitates that for me. But I am conscious of how much information I put out there. I don’t need people to know where I am all the time.

  40. says

    Great article. These stories most definitely creeped me out – and vindicated my oft-maligned internet sharing ‘paranoia’.
    People don’t understand how I can be so neurotic about the internet, but leave my front door unlocked when we’re around. Except, how many people are walking by my house in a day -? 20? 40? ‘Nuf said.
    What I find most amazing are the impulses to check in and constantly update in the first place. I was at a burlesque show a few weeks ago (whole other story) and believe it or not, half the people there were tweeting about the show instead of watching it. Yes, men too and including the friend that I was there with. She totally missed the end. Unbelievable.
    This is not a technological issue, it’s a social issue; pun not intended, but entirely appproriate. I think the possibilities have simply become too exciting, too profound, too quickly and people rush out like kids to play with them without considering the dangers or side-effects.
    As Shawn uses this technology, for networking & marketing purposes, it makes sense. As a toy, I really don’t see the attraction.

  41. says

    The same thing happened to me as to Shea. I usually check into places *after* I leave to avoid that type of thing. But that was the one time I didn’t and got a call at a restaurant from some creepazoid. There’s more info on the stalking event here: http://twittamentary.com/stories/foursquare-and-twitter-stalking-goes-rogue-jesseluna

    As a marketing dude and tech blogger, I have to keep in touch with different technologies so still have an account but only use it on rare occasions. I’ll post to promote a new biz or if I’m at an open networking events and am always conscious of the ones that I decide to post to Twitter. I never tweet from people’s houses.

  42. Pete says

    After reading your post, and Shea’s, I have to wonder what you find so complicated about the Foursquare settings. As long as you aren’t making foursquare friends with strangers, those settings can keep your check-ins as private as going out in public can be. Even looking through all the comments, every single scary example involves information over sharing that can be fixed with common sense and changing settings. Its good to make people think about their privacy settings, but just bashing everyone who uses geolocation services isn’t cool.

  43. Hillary Hartley says

    “I don’t want the world anymore to know where I am, unless I tell them.”

    So, what will you use to tell them? Isn’t this exactly what Foursquare is for? No need to delete your account, just don’t check in.

    Posts like this just demonize the software, when it should be about personal decisions and responsibility. Same goes for Twitter, Facebook, etc. People have to understand the software they use, the privacy implications for using it, and make informed decisions.

    • Ari Herzog says

      Yes, people have to understand why they use things. They also have to understand why they shouldn’t use things. Then, they can make up their own minds for whether or not they use it and how.

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