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Foursquare and Facebook Places: Should You Worry about Your Privacy?

With the recent popularity increase of mobile check-in solutions such as Facebook Places and Foursquare.com, there are growing concerns as well as praises for these types of applications. I had no concept of what was really behind these applications so I did a little investigation.

And let me preface this by saying that I was totally freaked out by the notion of these types of applications – at first. After my very preliminary exploration however, I see the benefits of offering these types of geo-locating services to not only join people together in common places but also to enhance business performances based on the amount of users who regularly ‘check-in’ to their physical locations.

Foursquare screenshot

Foursquare screenshot from a New York user’s account

Overview

Foursquare.com is a website whose sole purpose is to link users using their geographic locations. Users are able to update their locations using GPS enabled smartphones and share tips with other users pertaining to their current locations (such as menu recommendations or sites to see). Users also earn points for multiple check-ins at the same location and frequent users are even awarded exclusive titles such as Mayor, if they are the most frequented visitor to a particular location. Mayorship badges are striking up friendly competition amongst users making the concept of checking in via Foursquare an addictive activity.

Facebook has recently added their own version of geo-locating services to their repertoire called, Facebook Places. Places is a basic version of Foursquare in which users can check in to their current locations and tag friends that they’re with. These updates will appear in the newsfeed section of the Facebook homepage, visible to all of the users’ friends.

Concerns

Many users have expressed concerns with privacy rights and safety. The most important thing to know is that these applications are exclusively opt-in features meaning the participants have chosen to share their location with their online community. As Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg shares: “the Places feature isn’t about sharing your location with the world; it’s about finding places and sharing them with your friends.”

Bottom line, Facebook and Foursquare users choose to be a part of the program and thus gain the benefits of connecting with others in their location and viewing tips posted from past visitors. A Facebook user’s current location cannot be posted without the user’s consent, ensuring the privacy of those who do not wish to share this information. And in order to check-in with Foursquare, one must have their own account, inherently signifying their willingness to participate in the program.

Strengths

The turning point in my discovery process is how these applications are positively affecting local business and retail chains. For example:

Foursquare has been responsible for recent partnerships with exposure hungry retail locations such as Gap and Ann Taylor. For promotional purposes, Gap has extended a program which offers 25 percent discounts to customers who’ve checked into their local Gap location. Ann Taylor followed suit by offering a 15 percent discount to Foursquare users whom have checked into an Ann Taylor location 5 times. ‘Mayors’ of Ann Taylor are entitled to a 25 percent discount as a reward for their loyalty. So what does this mean for the future of Foursquare? I see this as an expansive avenue for potential growth using this geo-locating feature. Not only will partnerships such as these promote Foursquare but also help retailers, which could prove to be huge especially given the current state of the economy.

I’m sure many skeptics are still going to steer clear of these location exposing services, however I see the benefits associated with these social networking geniuses. I still don’t have a Foursquare account nor have I made my first check-in using Facebook Places, but I’m sure the day will come when I do. Until then I will see how current users rate the programs, keeping in the back of my mind that should I decide to participate in this type of community, I may be eligible to receive discounts at my favorite store or restaurants – how about that for an incentive!

Image Credits



Bubba

Bubba is the Quality Logo Products mascot. He may have started out as "just a stress ball," but he's come a long way since the company's launch in 2003. Bubba has been immortalized in numerous vector artwork designs for internal and external promotions, and you can see him change outfits on the Quality Logo Products homepage whenever a holiday rolls around. Oh, and he thinks pants are for the birds. You can connect with Bubba on

Comments

  1. QLP Kid

    My Goal is to become Mayor of QLP…

  2. Kat

    Wow, thank you sooooo much for posting this blog. I was on Facebook for a little while last night and noticed one of my friends posted “is at home” and home was a link. My curious mind clicked on the link and up popped a map showing where she lived!! I couldn’t believe it! My first thought was: Now why would someone post their address and location on FB????? I could take that map and go directly to her house. And, even though I know or know of every one of my 400+ friends, I do know there are some people that like to see how many friends they can get so they are adding people left and right without even knowing them. Is that the kind of information you want to give to someone that you don’t know?? I don’t think so! But I love knowing now what the deal is with all these new looking posts these days. What will they think of next?!

  3. Scooby DOO!

    At least with programs like this, the Eileen Wood’s of the world where know where their Tiger is getting the most “check-ins.”

  4. QLP Jill

    I can see the appeal of Foursquare and Facebook Places, especially if there are discounts involved. People will do just about anything to save a few bucks! :) Even though I acknowledge these services as innovative, I did opt-out of the tagging the other day and I always ignore friends’ invites to join…it just makes me so nervous. But hey, who knows! Maybe the day will come when I’ll participate as well!

    Excellent post!

  5. Bret Bonnet

    I’ve read a LOT about FourSquare and Facebook Places these past few months, and while I agree the services ARE super cool, and a GREAT marketing avenue for most businesses with a brick and mortar location, I’m still not to sure how “safe” I feel about sharing my location data, even if ONLY with my friends.

    Let’s face it, when is the last time you went through your Facebook or Twitter account and did some MUCH needed friend/follower cleaning? For all you know that pimply faced kid from 4th grade you always made fun of is still on your contact list and is just WAITING for the perfect moment to get his revenge. What better time than when he/she knows you’re not home, and maybe even several hours away because you just checked into the McDonalds accross town using FourSquare?

    I’m always suspect and take my privacy VERY seriously, probably more so than most, but I guess this just goes to show… “keep your friends close, but your enemies even closer!”.

    PS. QLP Kid, you WISH you could EVER become the Mayor of QLP! :)

  6. D-Rok

    I find it ridiculous that people feel OBLIGATED to share their personal life with the world. There’s actually PRESSURE put on us by other people on Facebook. If you don’t post where you are, what you’re doing and include some pictures of your previous evening’s activities, friends and family members become resentful toward you.

    It’s as if they think you don’t consider them worthy of knowing what goes on in your life, or you’re hiding something. Remember when people used to write letters? Remember when the term “pen pal” used to actually mean you both had pens and hand-wrote things to one another? I never had a pen pal, because I thought it was lame to write letters back and forth with some stranger, but now I’m on Facebook receiving messages from people I don’t even know.

    I don’t know why we float by day-in and day-out trying to live up to socially constructed obligations that mean nothing. If someone “pokes” you, do you not feel obligated to “poke” them back? Is it really going to matter if I don’t get online every night to respond to Facebook messages? No, it’s not, because I rarely do and the world’s still turning. Now it’s on my cell phone. I didn’t even download it, it was there when I bought the phone. I set up my email account on my phone, and because my Facebook account is set up based upon my email address, I automatically get updates on my phone when someone pokes me or sends me some stupid e-present crap. With my OCD, I can’t help but open it and close it just to get the “you’ve got mail” icon off of my phone.

    I hate getting phone calls from people frantically asking something like, “why haven’t you responded to my Facebook post about the silly hat? I posted it like 4 hours ago!!!” Well, I’m busy with this thing called “my life,” and I’d rather not waste half of it by living vicariously through other people’s Facebook pictures/posts.

    I mostly use Facebook as a photo-album, and I keep it private. That reminds me however, I need to delete some people (those I don’t know that somehow became my “friends.”)

    So yes, it’s a neat tool, but it’s not the answer to happiness. Get the heck away from your laptop once in a while and join a REAL social group that requires you to actually interact with people in person. I bet you’ll be nervous and awkward, because you’ve totally forgotten what it’s like to interact with humans in real time. I know my social skills have taken a bit of a nose-dive since I’ve become more tech-savvy. Technology can be great, but it can also dehumanize a lot of aspects of life.

    People don’t talk to people anymore, they talk to computers who then reiterate their messages to other people who then respond to their computer. Imagine if someone you hate grabbed your computer away from you while you were using it and just smashed it on the floor and asked you “Why haven’t you called me??” You can’t just click “ignore,” and go play Farmville. Think about THAT! :0)

  7. Jana

    I like the idea – rewarding people for going to a certain store frequently with digital check-ins – but the online updating is what creeps me out. A lot of people have no idea that their Facebook/Twitter accounts are public let alone how to limit their Facebook/Twitter privacy. It might be made slightly “safer” (i.e., less stalker-friendly) if there were a cumulative list (@QLPBubba visited Starbucks 3 times this week!). Or maybe the check-ins could be purely for the visitor’s benefit (although I will admit that causes the sponsoring store to lose out on some advertisement) and only show up on their own personal accounts rather than social networking sites.

    Either way, I think the ability to check in is pretty neat, but the availability of that up-to-the-moment information is a little sketchy.

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