Committing Location Based Service Suicide

Yesterday I checked in for my last time.  I’m done.  No more BrightKite, FourSquare or Gowalla.  I was an early user on all three of the services, and am quitting cold turkey.

But why? (and why would anyone care…)

Well, why anyone would care can only be pointed to me just being a point of data as a heavy user leaving the services. I was a poweruser.  878 posts on Brightkite, 703 checkins on Foursquare, 54 stamps with Gowalla, and I had enabled geotagging on my twitter account and posted over 2000 messages.

Simply: too much work and risk, too little reward.

All I got were quite a few stalker like experiences grouped with a shift of my thinking about location based services from expression of physical identity to needless ego boost.

One specific interaction really bothered me to look at the benefits of these services.  I had someone look up historical data on my checkins and put themselves in places so they would ‘run into me.’   Once I switched my habits, they did as well (that is when I figured it out).

Their response: ‘well, you put it out there.’

I did.  I opted in to getting stalked.  From a stalkers point of view, this is a goldmine.  Foursquare for example lists the picture and location of recently crowned mayors on their homepage.  Here is a picture of someone, with the address of the place they usually hang out. I find that troubling, especially for someone just wanting to share with friends.

In trade for being at risk of stalkers, you get $1 off your beer.  The tradeoff just doesn’t seem worth it.

I never thought I would advocate for privacy with these services.  There are plenty of crazy folks in the public, enabling them with your name does nothing to add to crazy, you are still at risk, but I can’t help but realize how troubling this data can become when the startups that are hosting the data are motivated to have the most complete data set of the most influential people in the area.  In other words, a private ‘with friends’ model is needed, but startups are not rewarded for keeping privacy, they are rewarded for having the hottest network (most public).

You won’t finding me checking in anymore.

I feel the need to close with a crotchety ‘Get off my lawn.’ 🙂

  • stinginthetail

    having already been stalked several times in my decade plus on the net, i could not understand why people wanted to show geolocation info – i wouldn't in a blue fit 🙂

  • never signed up never knew why anyone would use this stuff even with a big ego and prefer lying about my location half the time. more interewted to hear your thoughts about it in a few weeks.

  • I just became the mayor of Standing Outside Your Window on @foursquare!

  • Sam

    I've been ousted as mayor of my own house 🙂

    I think Google latitude has it right. I liked the alert I received the other day when an out of town friend happened to be a few miles away from me.
    I'm deleting foursquare, waiting to see how the yelp check-in feature works out (for android).

  • Andrew, I feel similarly and wrote about it here, from a slightly different angle:

    There is huge potential in location-based services, but in order to tap into it we need to get a lot smarter about how these services impact people's lives in the real world — and that includes taking things like privacy more seriously. (That's part of what we're trying to do with BlockChalk, btw.)

  • chaig

    1. There is no such thing as a “private” network or “private” data.

    2. The only people thinking about this stuff are people who came of age prior to the internet and social networking. The younger generation won't even contemplate the implications, it will just be a part of their life.

  • partyaficionado

    I've only recently started using 4sq. I started to see how boring my daily trips must look. Coffee shop, yoga studio, park to walk the dog, yawn.
    Now if I go somewhere really interesting I'll check in.

    As an event professional, I am very intrigued by the exhibit booth “check in” that was used during ces and other events. So I'll stick around for a while.

  • firewallender

    I'm mayor of “The Ewok Village” in Seattle. Seriously. 🙂

  • Andy Mac

    People can rent their own Paparazzi these days and I think celeb status is considered to have arrived once you've a stalker. What if you advertise and get one and have your 15 minutes of fame? Of course having one would be terrifying but there are some real sickos out there in terms of the stalker and the stalkee.

    I see a time when there'll be assassin games like those played on college grounds but on a global level. These days people are flippant with their privacy and these services will increase that. I think it's really screwed up that I'll be able to go to a pub, look at my smartphone and know who many of the people in the bar are by name, picture and then search deeper and find where they work, their interests etc.

    Because of all this, we'll soon see advertising for holidays in web free locations. 'Be uncontactable for 5 days. Come holiday in xyz-land :-)'

  • IT'S ON LIKE DONKEY KONG. The race to mayor begins. Round One FIGHT. 😉

  • firewallender

    I pretty much agree with Marina Martin on this subject (as I do on most subjects) – just use friending carefully and take advantage of privacy settings. Don't succumb to plots that prey upon some weird sense of nerd-pride we all have that compels us to overshare. The same could be said with Twitter as well.

    That all being said, I have had people, nice people even, show up unwanted and without warning to join me in events they were not actually welcome at, i.e., a was-supposed-to-be-one-on-one dinner. But, a checkin is an invitation. I learned that lesson well.

    On that note, I'm taking this post as a reminder to go through my friendlist on Foursquare. 🙂

  • firewallender

    K, but no cheating!

  • firewallender

    So glad you're here to add to the conversation.

  • andrew

    I feel you. Coming from someone who is more than a bit antisocial, I don't care about letting people know where I am. If I want them to know, they'll get a call, or a smoke signal at least. Otherwise, lyke, leave me alone. It took a year for my girlfriend to convince me to get a cell phone.

    Twitter sickens me; to take twitter and make it location-based sickens me even more. There has to be a point to these tools, such as updating the people who you would normally be texting or calling to let them know where you are. Otherwise it's fun for a few days, but it collects dust after you realize every fucking day is the same.
    “Hey, I'm at work.”
    “Wow, I'm getting coffee. Exciting, right?”
    “I'm home. Exact same time as yesterday and the day before. Weird.”

    Guess what, nobody cares. Just like twitter. Millions of people sending crap into a void that just collects and compresses crap and spews it out in 50,000 directions. I know what kind of coffee Kutch got this morning. Boy, do I feel enriched.

    I'd love to see a service that allows you to just update your real friends, and then maybe there wouldn't be such an enormous push to add lame content, but instead only update when “hey, I'm at the bar, who's with me?” which seems to be the minority in the game of “OMG I have to check in here 10 more times or I won't be mayor!!! LOL!!”

    What a waste of time. Seems like everyone misses the point in the war to get users the quickest.

  • john


  • Dave


  • bartdenny

    I guess that if Twitter sickens you, you certainly are not the right type for either Foursquare or Gowalla. But clearly a lot of people love Twitter, and these apps serve a great purpose alongside.

    But we are early days still, and I certainly think there is room for different models. Tacking on existing social graphs from Twitter and Facebook is one model, but private or even anonymous groups are another.

  • Lots of debate going on in the PR Community too re Geolocation :

  • And to think, all this time I thought you were Mr Moneybags with all your Ritz checkins!

  • freerobby

    Good post, Andrew (and way to provoke a great discussion, too).

    I use FourSquare when I'm at a public place and would be happy for my friends to drop by and say hello. The pattern-stalking incident you mentioned though is pretty creepy, and while I like to think the odds of that are small, especially for someone like me who doesn't have a ton of followers, it will definitely make me think twice about checking in “regularly” at the places I frequent.

    Regarding privacy, you're unfortunately correct that companies are rewarded for making your data as public as possible. Unless you're willing to take your ball and go home — something most people won't do unless things get _really_ bad — they have little incentive to offer you a private option.

  • marc1919

    I'm a heavy twitter user, who's been rightly accused of oversharing many times – but I just can't seem to get into location based services. I don't think that it's a privacy thing for me, though I did have a stalker situation last year where someone knew I was going to be somewhere private came “just to chat”. It was a little uncool, but not completely creepy. The problem I have had since Dodgeball is that it's too much work for the user without a balanced psychological reward. I just had this conversation yesterday with the manager of my favorite coffeeshop (@coffeegroundz) about the fact that he's been giving discounts to 4S mayors since early summer, but it still hasn't really caught on. If these LBS would auto-broadcast your updates when you got to a specific place, it makes things a little easier but then they would have to call it Beacon – and everyone knows how well that word worked out for Facebook privacy fans.

  • Let's start the “Scobleizer lives in the Ritz” rumour 🙂

  • Your post has inspired me to delete my GoWall and FourSquare accounts as well. Thanks for opening my eyes.

  • I've definitely thought about this before and bounced back and forth between paranoid and naive. Ultimately, I don't have friends on Foursquare I don't actually know/trust and I don't check in at home or in offices, but more than once have I considered calling the whole thing off.

  • adamvonwillis

    I'm still not sure about GoWalla, but I really enjoy FourSquare. I think it just depends on your friends. True, if you don't know anyone else that uses these services it could get a little creepy, but I have a lot of friends that are on FourSquare. It's fun because we hang out a lot more due to the fact that a lot of time they were close to me, but I never knew it.

    But yeah… not for everyone. I don't think it's going to catch on like wildfire… but it does have a useful niche for certain people.

  • nic_ko

    full ack, andrew

  • andrewhyde

    You only have friends on Foursquare but they expose your name and photo when you are the mayor. When you check into a place, the data is available publicly, from what I have seen (other people checked in there can see you).

  • andrewhyde

    You are my hero.

  • Andrew, thanks for the post! We want people to use Gowalla in a way that enriches their lives, and also one that they're comfortable with. If you haven't seen them yet, you might take a look at the privacy settings we introduced a couple weeks back:

    It might not be everything you're looking for, but it's a start for us. We are listening to the great people using our little service, and we want to make it something for everyone to enjoy using and also that fits comfortably. I would be happy to get more of your feedback after you've had a chance to take a look at the new settings.


  • Interesting. As an iPhone user on AT&T, my Droid envy grows with each passing day.

  • andrewhyde

    There could be a great brandjacking photoshoot on that….

  • itsmejoe

    Finally, I can get the mayorship of the Trident back from you.



  • andrewhyde

    Thanks for the tip, love the 12 seconds crew.

  • andrewhyde

    I think we talked about this when you were in Boulder!

  • andrewhyde

    Thanks for responding so I don't have to 🙂

  • andrewhyde

    Would love to see a post about this.

  • andrewhyde

    BrightKite by far has the best privacy settings, but FourSquare is the most public (shiny object wins). How much risk is too much is a great question.

  • andrewhyde


  • andrewhyde

    That is what I am falling back to.

  • andrewhyde

    Very cool. I'm out of the game but enjoy hearing about new products.

  • andrewhyde

    I think a sharing of location is a form of expression… can be good and bad.

  • andrewhyde

    I'm looking forward to talking to you about it!

  • andrewhyde

    Thanks for sharing the post.

  • andrewhyde

    Yeah, it is really the think that I want to have. The new black.

  • andrewhyde

    Also agree with Marina a majority of the time, including now.

    Remember, your foursquare checkin is just as public to outside your friend network if other people are checked into the same place…

  • andrewhyde

    The most unhealthy actions get the most users…. interesting isn't it? I would think the other way around, but with the social distribution doesn't seem to matter.

  • andrewhyde

    Thanks for the comment, something to think about!

  • andrewhyde

    Thanks for sharing the link, very interesting commentary over there.

  • andrewhyde

    I didn't think much of the post when I wrote it, amazed with the attention it is getting. Really striking a chord with a mass group.

    Interesting to see where it goes.

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