Ahead Of Facebook Location, Foursquare Talks Privacy 101

In advance of Facebook’s possible location announcement tomorrow, Foursquare is tweaking its privacy settings today. In an announcement made on the company’s blog, Foursquare says that its service will now allow you to change your settings to withhold or share more information with your Foursquare friends.

For example, Foursquare is now allowing users to choose to share your email or phone number with friends or choose to opt out of all Mayorships. You can choose whether local merchants can see when you’ve checked into their businesses, and can regulate the syndication of your check-ins and activity to Twitter and Facebook. A Privacy 101 page gives you details on type of information that can be shared on the location-based network. The startup has even created an elaborate grid that breaks down how certain default settings effect the information that is shared with your friends and the public. The startup even goes so far as to provide definitions of what a check-in is and the difference between a mobile app and the website.

Nearing 3 million members, Foursquare is growing fast and wants to ensure that users understand their privacy setting. More than that, the startup is trying to empower users to take control over their privacy.

And privacy missteps aren’t new to the startup. In June, Wired highlighted an issue with Foursquare privacy, whereby a program could effectively harvest Foursquare checkin data by constantly refreshing venue pages and looking to see which users were showing up in the “Who’s Been Here” section. Foursquare addressed and patched the data breach immediately.

It’s probably not a coincidence that this announcement comes a day before Facebook is reportedly going to talk about the network’s location app. And privacy is no doubt going to be central to any location product that is announced tomorrow, considering the issues that Facebook has dealt with in the past over user controls and privacy.

As my colleague MG Siegler wrote last night, it seems highly unlikely the Facebook is going launch a Foursquare killer tomorrow. It’s more plausible that Facebook’s location application will federate other location streams (such as Foursquare’s or Gowalla’s data) at first.