As Foursquare Concentrates On Demonstrating Value, It No Longer Allows Private Check-Ins On iOS 7

Foursquare no longer allows users to check in privately with the iOS version of its app. The change was made with the recent 7.0 release and ‘iOS 7 refresh’ last week and appears to be a play to demonstrate the value of its network by ensuring check-in data is accessible to users of the product, its API partners and any possible suitors for acquisition.

The explanatory privacy listing, tipped to us by user Mel Tajon, appears on Foursquare’s site and lists growth as the reasoning behind the change.

“As Foursquare continues to grow, we have decided to remove the ability to privately check in,” the entry states. “If you don’t wish to share your location, we’d encourage you to still use Foursquare to get out and explore awesome places nearby!”

Foursquare clarifies that all past check-ins that were made privately will continue to be private. The entry notes that private check-ins will still be available on its desktop and other platforms like Android (and older versions of the iOS app?) for now, but we’d expect this option to start disappearing across all offerings sooner or later.

We discussed Foursquare’s recent 7.0 update last week and found it to be a nice step forward. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to use it for my normal ‘Foursquaring’ and it holds up really well.

The private check-in was a feature that allowed you to tag a location as having been visited without exposing it to your network of friends. If you’re not a Foursquare user, it’s important to note that detailed check-in info was and is only visible to your friends on the network. A private check-in was an additional layer of privacy that allowed you to create a personal list of ‘been theres’ without broadcasting those locations.

Foursquare notes that you’re more than welcome to continue getting value out of the network without checking in if you don’t want to share your location.

This decision speaks to Foursquare’s current direction on several levels. First of all, it coincides with the overall shift of the service away from a ‘check-in game’ to a recommendation engine. Removing the private option means that you can no longer use Foursquare as a ‘personal diary’ of visits, either. It is firmly a public network of curated locations in the vein of Yelp now.

It’s also interesting in the light of the questions about profitability that seem to surround Foursquare with a low hum of acquisition talk these days.

Foursquare is a great, well-built product in and of itself. But its database of locations, verified by personal check-in and user activity like reviews, photos and likes, is unmatched by almost any other competitor in that space. There are databases with more locations, but I have a hard time thinking that any of them are so rich in signals. The Foursquare API is one of the go-to location feeds for independent developers that I speak to, and many big-name apps that don’t have skin in the Google v. Apple game (and they’re getting fewer by the day) use it because it’s just really dang good.

Increasing the addressable surface area of public check-in data only makes sense if Foursquare wants to increase its attractiveness for acquisition. Of course, it probably won’t hurt the amount of public signal when it comes to powering its own product, too.

Update: One interesting question about this is what will happen eventually with Foursquare check-ins via API. One of the larger private check-in partners, Path, has an experience built off of checking in either solo or with small trusted groups that may or may not align with your Foursquare friends. If Foursquare applies this ‘no private check-in’ model to the API as well, will these partners be out of luck or will there continue to be a solution offered there. If there’s a significant amount of data coming in from outside networks like Path, the answer might be the former, rather than the latter.