Online Invasion: Foursquare

Jan 18, 2013 17:37:05Posted by John Skorick, MyAKA Founder & CEO

Online Invasion: Foursquare

Unless you've spent the last two years hiding under a rock, you've probably heard of the mobile app known as Foursquare. The program allows smart phone users to "check in" at various hot spots, be they restaurants, bars, retail outlets, public parks or even office spaces. Those who check in to a certain location frequently are designated as the "mayor" of that spot, and visiting a place often may allow users to claim coupons, like a "buy 10 get one free" coffee card. While the mobile app was once quite popular, it's future is uncertain, and some even predict that it will be a thing of the past by the end of the year, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. After doing some research, we wonder if the mobile privacy concerns many have about Foursquare are contributing to its decline.

A Stalker's Dream
Foursquare was originally intended to offer a mobile-social experience. Its developers hoped it would turn real life into a game in which you were able to unlock achievements simply by visiting your favorite coffee shop every day. But like so many social media websites and smart phone applications, it came with an unexpected dark side. It didn't take long for people to realize that the app was a stalker's dream. The social aspect of the app allows you to view other users' profiles, even if you don't know them in real life. You can search for Foursquare users who are nearby, view their photograph, figure out what public transportation stops they frequent, and maybe even deduce where they work.

Developers quickly realized the potential of such intimate information, and at least one app creator turned it into something even creepier. Consider the "Girls Around Me" app, a mobile program that allows smart phone users to discover mobile phone holders in a nearby radius. According to TechCrunch, The app uses public check ins, including, presumably, those from Foursquare, to provide its users with information about women nearby, all under the guise of offering opportunities for dating. But it doesn't take much to see how potentially dangerous such an application could be if used for the wrong reasons.

Foursquare's Changing Privacy Policies
There's another privacy issue that users of Foursquare should be aware of. Changes coming to the application's privacy settings later this month will give business owners who use Foursquare more access to their customer's habits on the app. As it stands now, business owners are only able to see very basic data about their customers' check ins - for example, a bartender may be able to see the Facebook or Twitter profile of customers who have checked in to their establishment more than 10 times, or they can access this information for individuals who have visited their bar within the last three hours. After January 28, however, when the new privacy rules go into effect, many of these restrictions will be stripped away, reports Wired.

The Big Picture
There are several issues at work here. For one, it seems that Foursquare may be more about growth, and is only "paying lip service to privacy concerns," as Jason Stamper, editor of Computer Business Review, explained in The Guardian. But the larger issue may be that some users aren't aware of how much private information their sharing via their mobile phones. Users can protect themselves from privacy headaches by listing an additional phone number when signing up for websites and monitoring their privacy settings.

Fortunately, it seems that more people are learning how important mobile security is in the age of mobile technology. Taking action and voicing discontent when a mobile application you use invades your privacy will help companies understand that they must take their users' security seriously.