I've been thinking a lot lately about online privacy and sites such as FourSquare (which I use). Many of you may not know what FourSquare is exactly so a brief rundown:
It's an app you install on your Android, iPhone or other smart phone and it's GPS aware.
When you go to a location you go into FourSquare and "checkin" letting people know you are there.
Foursquare gives you points, awards mayorships (if you go there a lot), special badges, and let's you see what you friends are doing or where they are at.
Some places giver you discounts if you are a Mayor at their establishment.
When you checkin to a location, other users tips are listed (sort of like going to Yelp).
So.. A few other things about FourSquare privacy:
You cannot see a person's history if you are not their friend but you CAN see their Mayorships.
You can't see where someone currently is unless you are their friend or you are at the same location (or you look at the location you think they are at through your phone or website). If you are patient enough you could just click around until you find them.
With that being said, I do have some conerns. FourSquare does make a handy profiling tool. The caveat is you have to first find the person on FourSquare thought that is probably not too hard if you know anything about them or where they like to go. Some people make that REALLY easy but publishing their checkings via Twitter and/or Facebook. Some even checkin at their home (I know where you live!) or their work. Most people are easily searchable via the FourSquare search page.
So once you find someone on FourSquare – then what? Even if a person does not checkin at home or work you can find out some interesting things. Sure you can profile using Facebook and other tools but FourSquare offers location profiling and habit profiling (many of us are creatures of habit!)
Let's look at "Sally". I've mapped out a real users (with not their real name) locations on Google Maps. There are places where she is mayor or has checked in a lot (you can sometimes figure this out by "badges" they earn). The map below is jsut some of her checkins:
A few things I can tell you about Sally from this map and from her FourSquare page. She likes movies (10+ theatre checkins) and you can probably find her ofthen at the Kennedy School (bar & movie theatre). She likes art museums (10+ different checkins) and her favorite is in The Pearl area of Portland. Go to either place – you just might find her. Also she stays in a very narrow swath most of her time.
She works in NW Portland judging by many checkins at a business there that you wouldn't just go to if you didn't work there. Nearby is a bar – probably where she sometimes hangs out after work. Over in The Pearl she has several haunts where she probably also hangs out after work or maybe on weekends.
Over in the right part of the map in NE Portland is where "Sally" lives. She checks in a lot over there. Post office, dining, grocerices, etc.
If you were looking for Sally and were perhaps a stalker (or worse). How hard do you think it would be to find her without her even checking in at home or work?
This sort of information makes me wonder why I even use FourSquare (and I may not anymore). There are some safety precautions you can take but even so you can probably still be profiled pretty easily. Some no brainers are don't check in at home or work. Don't publish your checkins for the world to see or at least not all of them. If you publish people know where you are (and where you aren't – home!). Maybe publically post checkins if someone else is not at your house unless you want to get robbed. Don't add people you don't know as friends on FourSquare because they can see EVERYWHERE you have been AND where you currently are. Another one that should be obvious but judging by the random friend invites I get and the amount of people with oddles of friends, it is apparently not that obvious.
The world can be a dangerous place and the Internet can sometimes speed up that process.
Be safe out there,