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 from a New York user's account
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.
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.
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!