Foursquare – fun game or impending privacy nightmare?

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As we just reported today, Foursquare, the location based social game from Silicon Valley, launched today in London. I’ve duly signed up to check it out, and tweeted out my username to see who’s out there on the system that I know.

First of all the site has no setting to stop receiving emails when someone requests to be your ‘friend’ on Foursquare. That’s not a privacy issue, but it is incredibly annoying. This is possibly their version of a ‘viral loop’. I call it spam/ham. Yes, I can set up a filter, but it’s not an ideal solution. That’s not my main beef with Foursquare.

My main beef right now is the utter lack of sophistication in the privacy settings on location. Let me explain.

This morning I got a friend request from a “Rebecca C.” In the blizzard of Twitter and friend requests on Twitter and other networks I get I simply presumed this was a tech scene person who follows me on Twitter, is probably in London (half the point of Foursquare) and accepted the request, thinking nothing of it. I also activated push alerts on the iPhone app.

The next thing I knew I had a push alert in my iPhone. I’ve atached an edited screenshot of it. Now, I actually don’t know where Rebecca C. lives, so it was a shock to find that she’d put her apartment address into her published location.

Granted we are ‘friends’ on Foursquare so this wasn’t data which was published to the entire planet.

However, it’s quite clear from the above that many people are not going to understand how and to whom they are publishing their location, particularly their home address, on Foursquare. We are all used to the notion of sharing pictures and status updates on social networks. Publishing our location is still a new thing. I know plenty of geeks using Brightkite in the UK, but it’s far less likely to go as viral as Foursquare’s game has already in the US. And it’s likely that with Foursquare’s targeting of London, which is also Twitter’s biggest city, this will become a much bigger issue.

By contrast Rummble, the UK startup which operates not as a game but as a location based trust and reviews network, has far more sophisticated, granular settings for location/relationships (see image). It has a sliding bar for setting your relationship to someone.

I predict all sorts of mainstream media kerfuffle about Foursquare and privacy, not least because of how it will tie into Twitter, which is a media dahling at the moment.

  • http://blog.david.bailey.net davidjwbailey

    not going to take long before “adult services” spam this to death, is it.

    why do designers always assume “good” on the part of users? spending just a week thinking of what “evil” might use your application for is a reasonable use of a design teams time.

    if they can’t, ask me, I can be evil on demand :-)

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  • http://www.zendigital.be roningirl

    We are still Foursquare- (and Rummble)-bereft in Brussels, and I had been eager to try it out. Thanks for the heads-up, and mostly for using the word “kerfuffle”! :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Julian_Bond/501829088 Julian Bond

    Oy vey. Why can’t somebody (anybody) do for “Where am I” what Twitter did for “what am I doing/thinking”. I keep looking at these geolocation apps and they all suck. The most annoying is when they aren’t global by design from day one. Or when they use the Craigslist-esque, city paradigm. How many half way decent apps have you seen that only work in California or generate the same old kerfuffle because your city, neighbourhood or boring little UK market town isn’t included?

    Our good friends at Fireeagle thought long and hard about all the privacy aspects but I’m still waiting for some solid app that uses it. Then we have all that browser and mobile geolocation , GPS, cell triangulation, wifi hotspot goodness just waiting to be used.

    I know this stuff isn’t easy but come on, somebody, anybody, please work it out.

  • http://www.simplyzesty.com Niall Harbison

    Really interested to get my hands on this and hope they roll it out past London soon. From what people are saying in the USA it is the cool kids using it rather than the more geeky middle aged element using Twitter so the adoption will be a lot quicker and kids should also get into it as there is a game factor to it. The privacy issue would be a real worry with kids and I would also be pretty wary of updating it when at home as I wouldn’t really want people knowing where I lived

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matthew_Anderson/660044514 Matthew Anderson

    The spam (sorry email) settings on Forsquare are annoying and need to be sorted. If I activated all my emails from the various networks I am sure that I would take my email server down.

    Privacy is a big issue with social networks and I am surprised that Forsquare gives out such information so easily. You say that you were not her friend?

    Personal info on any network is not new (just look at what info Facebook asks you for).

    We must be careful about what we give away online, even a Tweet such as – “I am going on holiday for two weeks” could end up with your house being burgled!

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