Foursquare and Your Privacy

I know it seems a little strange to mention the words “Foursquare” and “Privacy” in the same title since the application is all about sharing your location with others, but there are some steps you can take to help minimize privacy and security concerns.

  • Your Friends – One of the biggest things to remember is that you are in control of who you are friends with on Foursquare.  Only approve and friend those that you feel comfortable with being able to see where you are when you check-in.  For many, this is a very different group of people than they would approve on Facebook or allow to follow them on Twitter.
  • Phone Number and Email Address – Unless you want to make it easy for your Foursquare friends to be able to call or email you from within the application make sure the box in the “My Privacy” is not checked.
  • Who’s Here List – When someone checks into a venue there is a section within the application to see who else is checked in at that location.  This is where the real life interaction part of the app come into play.  Some people are very comfortable with this aspect and seek out the interaction, but others may want to remain anonymous to other users who are there.  If you fall into the latter, be sure to uncheck the “Show my name in the Who’s Here” List when I’m checked in” box under “My Privacy“.
  • Show Your Linked Accounts – If you have linked your Facebook and/or Twitter accounts to Foursquare, the links to those accounts will be shown on your profile page (even if you are not friends with them).  This is designed to let folks be able to connect with you on other platforms.  If you do not want this link to be visible you will need to uncheck the “Let people see the links to my Facebook/Twitter profiles” box under “My Privacy“.
  • Check-in and Hide Your Location – You have an option when you check-in to a venue to hide your location by selecting to not share it with your friends.  You will still get credit for being at a location for badge and mayor purposes.  The only difference is that it will not show up in your check-in history and when a friend sees you in the application it will show you as checked in “Off the Grid” so as not to show your location.
  • Check-in as you are Leaving – I have heard of some people checking into venues as they are leaving rather than when they arrive as they feel more comfortable that way.  Doing this does take away some of the potential interaction aspects and if a venue is offering a special for Foursquare players you would not see this pop up in the app.  If you aren’t concerned about these two things, then this may be an option to consider.  A couple of automatic methods already addressed to solve this concern would be either hiding your location or opting out from showing up in the who’s here list.

Home – Often people will add their home as a venue.  Private venues are in the works that only the creator and friends will see which would be perfect for home locations.  Until this is live and if you choose to add your home please remember you will need to follow a few simple basic rules to add some privacy for the venue:

  1. Do not put your real home address as the location
  2. Do not title it as “Home”
  3. Make sure the pin locator is not directly on your house.  If you don’t put your real address in there this will likely be a random placement on your street or neighborhood.
  4. To get “credit” for the check-in it will need to be within 250 meters of your actual home so just set the pin point nearby and test it to make sure it is within range, but not very close.
  5. Come up with a creative name for the location that doesn’t involve “Home” or your last name as public venues are searchable in Foursquare.

Let’s also take a look at “Linked Accounts” which is found on the Settings page.  Why would you link your Facebook and Twitter accounts to Foursquare?  This allows you to easily share your check-ins, when you become mayor, and when you unlock a badge automatically to your Twitter and/or Facebook feeds to keep your other friends/followers informed about what you are up to.  Many times sharing this will create some great dialogue with folks on other platforms about where you are at, the mayorship you just won/lost, or the badge you unlocked.  You can select what information you would like to auto-feed to each of these applications and can choose one or all of the following: Check-ins, Become Mayor, and Unlock a Badge.

Some things to consider with auto-sharing of your activity:

  • Feed clutter – If you are a heavy foursquare user and check-in a lot over the course of a day, you may not want to share all of your check-ins to Twitter and Facebook.  A lot of your followers/friends may find this to be extremely annoying and spam-like.  If you are interested in a happy medium between all and none, I would suggest maybe just sending when you unlock a badge or become mayor.  Typically, these two actions will create some dialogue and don’t occur very often so they won’t clutter up feeds.  You can also disable sending all check-ins to a linked account, but can choose manually at each checkin if you want to share.  This is useful as sometimes you will want to update other friends not on Foursquare with what you are up to.
  • Privacy – Now let’s say you are very concerned about privacy and have taken all of the steps above to limit who sees your Foursquare activity…but you send all of your check-ins to Twitter and Facebook where you have a large number of followers/friends who you don’t know (or know well enough to want them to find you).  If you send it to Twitter, it then becomes searchable as Tweets are public (unless you have a private account) and if you didn’t follow the advice on how to properly hide your “Home” then you will be opening yourself up for a lot of potential problems.  You can take all the care in the world on being private in Foursquare, but if you broadcast it to open applications then it will still be public information.

As with all online activity, there are going to be privacy concerns.  Even with applications like Foursquare, you can take steps to minimize your public exposure.  This list is by no means complete and I welcome other ideas you may have to assist users.

Post by: Chad Elkins – Find Chad on Twitter and Foursquare