Our friend @SarahRobinson today mentioned she was “foursquare impaired” and is curious about Foursquare and wants to participate, yet concerned about safety and how to go about using location-based services (LBS) without losing her privacy or security as she travels about.
These are very valid concerns and it’s great that Sarah is thinking before blindly jumping in, but I want to help alleviate some of the worry for her and others who are interested in playing with geo tools but not quite sure what they might get themselves into. You will need to signup online, but checkin from a mobile phone app such as the iPhone, Android device, Blackberry or Palm. I am on Foursquare, so the bulk of this post refers to it, but Gowalla is equally popular and someday I may be on it also.
Here’s a simple step-by-step process of some things you can do to protect yourself when using these services.
1. First of all, before signing up for an LBS, take a privacy inventory of ALL your social profiles. Twitter only allows a link to your site, but you may have private information on your background, if you’re self-employed or a business that operates from home. At Facebook, you may have listed your phone number, address, emails and other identifiers. Reconsider what fields you have filled out there or choose settings that prevent all but your closest friends from having access to that info. The same with LinkedIn, MySpace, Plurk, Plaxo, etc. Lock these profiles up if you want private info secured and then you won’t have to worry as much about your geo tools leading to more information than you wanted to give people.
2. Second of all, signing up is not in and of itself going to cause you any problems. You don’t even have to enter your last name at Foursquare. I couldn’t tell what the required fields are for Gowalla as they aren’t marked.
Foursquare displays your first name and last initial, Gowalla appears to display both names. My name displays as “Kristi C.” on Foursquare, instead of the more widely know “kriscolvin” which is both my Twitter and Foursquare user name.
That’s because I want to be able to accept large numbers of people as friends and not have to be overly concerned about who they are (as on Twitter.)
3. You can select whether or not you want every single Foursquare checkin to go to Twitter or Facebook, or just reflect your activity on Foursquare itself.
These settings are important to consider from both an annoyance factor (to members of other social networks, who may not care you’re having waffles at IHOP right now) and from a security factor. If you’re like me an an active Twitterer who is often out and about in Kansas City and surrounding areas, you might not want every follower you have to know all your activity.
4. You may be alarmed when you see untold numbers of folks requesting to be your friend on Foursquare, but there’s no need for alarm. One of the settings allows your handsome mug to be shown on the home page of the site whenever you checkin, and folks hitting the page right at that time may elect to befriend you just to add more folks to their network. There’s also a “friend finder” that people may use and you may be in their address book, Twitter or Facebook network.
5. You can use some creative processes to play in Foursquare, yet not be stalked or found. For example:
- Checkin to a place once you get in your car to leave. That way you can denote being there, without actually having to worry about people finding you there.
- Checkin only to places where you are with other people, such as your office or a restaurant and not when you’re alone, like at the grocery store or hair salon.
- Never checkin your home address or let people know if you’ve gone home or left home. It’s just good common sense!
- If you frequent a place in any sort of pattern, for example, hitting Starbucks every morning at 8:30 am, either don’t checkin every single time, or omit that place altogether and never checkin when there. Should someone have nefarious designs on you, you don’t want to indicate patterns of behavior that will give them unfair advantages. Okay, this might include marketers! 😉 This may actually get harder once a lot more companies use rewards based on checkins, so be aware that’s coming.
6. There are some pretty awesome stats at Foursquare with a tempting offer to tweet and share them. If you’re worried about privacy or security, don’t do it. Just enjoy them as records of patterns about your own behavior.
7. You can add tips and to-do’s for others about venues, such as “Try the Nutella Crepes!” at a place which has fabulous nutella crepes. Keep your tips generic and not personal.
8. If you checkin to a place and instantly regret it, it can always be deleted from the website.
9. Avoid sharing travel details with pals on Twitter and Facebook, then checking in from all over the place you’ve traveled to, especially if this is a major vacation or something and your house is actually empty at the moment. Rob Frappier wisely points out that the key is intelligence and moderation, when playing with these geo sites.
Facebook and Twitter are both integrating with LBS sites or adding geo-information to their product directly, so be sure to examine your settings regularly and change whatever they set by default that you do not agree with.
10. There’s a little link that says “Currently in X place” on the website. If you travel between multiple houses or places like I do each week, refrain from correcting that when you see it. For example, mine right now says I am in Mission, KS because I last checked in there, but that’s not where I’m sitting as I type this.
Now, hopefully some of the concern has been addressed and we can discuss WHY you might want to use these services. We are literally only on the cusp of what can or should be done with these interesting LBS applications. If you check out this page for businesses at Foursquare, you’ll see some interesting things: specials for the “mayor” of a bar or restaurant, coupons for checking in, and other reward ideas are being envisioned everyday.
Starbucks has officially announced they will be developing a Foursquare checkin reward system, and will award visits to multiple locations with a special Barista Badge and they will be actively experimenting with other reward ideas.
When you look at the nature of recommendations and reviews, retail shops of all types stand to gain big by getting involved with Foursquare. How many times have you walked by a dry cleaner, dentist or nail salon and wondered if the service or quality of care provided was any good? As more and more people use Foursquare beyond the simple quick checkin (meaning, they spend time on the site to categorize entries and do tips and to-do’s and longer checkin recommends), the value of this business being found on Foursquare increases significantly.
This is the reason the Fresh ID team is on Foursquare – some of our clients are a perfect fit for the future potential of offering rewards and benefitting from reviews and customer checkins, so we want to be part of this global, social experiment.
If you’re curious, but still need more info, check out the Foursquare blog on Tumblr to learn more about what they’re doing right now, and let us know what you think about the LBS revolution. Are you #foursquareimpaired, or playing with these tools at all? Let us know in the comments and if you want to be mine and Matt’s friend on Foursquare, our links are below.