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.’ 🙂






125 responses to “Committing Location Based Service Suicide”

  1. andrewhyde Avatar

    Look forward to meeting you at SXSW this year!

  2. andrewhyde Avatar

    I drank so many cups of tea to get it in the first place 🙂

  3. Eric Rice Avatar

    Same thing with kids. Even if you don't check in at the school, just knowing where the area you live can provide insight into school districts, etc. Then again, that could make your life just *boring*. Work, school, home, work school, home. I'm less worried about security than abject dullness.

    Still, all of this can be cross-referenced with flickr photos, facebook/twitter posts– so it's beyond just a simple 'show up where you are' thing. An entire aggregated profile can be created on any individual, enabling a someone to really crawl inside someone else's head.

    Our vanity and false sense of 'networking' (and passive acceptance of Facebook corp outlook) makes it oh-so easy for complacency to advance.

  4. Curtis Miller Avatar

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and describing how you came to this decision. It's interesting to see other people's thought process and rationalizations for decisions they make.

    I started using Foursquare at SXSW last year when they launched the iPhone app and really enjoyed it. At first mayorships and bragging rights were cool, but when they finally launched in Phoenix I realized that the real value I got from it was the discovery of new places. It definitely helped me break out of my routine.

    More recently, I don't use it as much as I used to and I only check in when I don't mind being found by other people. Moderation seems to have worked for me. I hope LBS seppuku works for you… 🙂

  5. Adam Pearson / @Pearsonify Avatar

    Interesting to hear your thoughts on this. I (finally) decided to try out Foursquare a couple weeks ago after watching Kevin Rose talk about his investments in both 4sq and Gowalla. I think the services are a great way for primarily small businesses to track and reward their most loyal customer(s), and 4sq/Gowalla have done a great job of making a game out of it so people think less about the fact they're telling the world where they are and think more about dismantling their buddy as Mayor and the free beer they'll earn after 99 more check-ins at the local watering hold.

    I have a hard time believing that anyone of any influence or popularity (such as yourself, Rose, etc.) is going to benefit from this in the long run. It's not only troubling to tell the world where you are at any given time, it's even more concerning, as some have already pointed out, to tell the world where you're NOT.

    Don't get me wrong, I think location-based services and advertising is going to be huge – we just need to create an alternative to the “here I am, come harass me” risk of the current services while still retaining the value to all parties. I'm open to suggestions.

    I've checked in twice on Foursquare, and that's probably enough for me. Thanks for taking the bold step to quit cold turkey! I will now get off your lawn.

  6. Diablo Avatar

    As someone else mentioned above, I only check in to a place when I'm about to leave.

  7. doniree Avatar

    Excellent points, and I'm still considering leaving them all…

  8. lolbsolis1 Avatar

    I dont have a smart phone :))

    However, the folks who will propel the location-sharing model to new heights will be the kids who are growing up now. They will legitimize location sharing to the extent that it will be become crazy not to do it. That is the future (I think). You may choose not to be a part of it, but you could be in the minority, sometime very soon.

    Darwinism, Obama and Social Media – links, ramifications. Check out my blog 🙂


  9. kohlmannj Avatar

    “…a checkin is an invitation.”

    This, to me, is the key part of how to best use these services.

    They tempt you and encourage you to check in everywhere, win prizes & badges & special deals.

    And I think that's where you can run into the problem of over-sharing or even privacy issues.

    But when used in a specific manner (e.g. I'm at a cafe & wondering who else is around), they can be great tools.

    To me, it's not a black or white issue. There is a LOT of room for gray, based on what you want to get out of the service. It always comes back to how you use the tool and what you want to get out of it. The services themselves aren't bad, you just have to make sure you use them in a manner that is consistent with your expectations of privacy. And I think it's also a good idea to keep in mind the “annoyance factor” to others if you're checking in all the time.

    I guess to me it seems pretty simple….check in when/where you might want to meet up with people. Else, don't check in.

  10. christian Avatar

    With gowalla its anything, not just business. So you could create a place on gowalla that you like to check in on you way home that is called, “Scoble's magical treehouse” and then all the geeks could check in there like a shrine.

  11. billcarroll Avatar

    And I thought you enjoyed all those times we “hung out together” … can I just call you from now on?

    I'm actually considering killing the location based stuff and Facebook. I'm tired of showing up tagged in other people's photos, among other things.

  12. Martin Lawrence Avatar

    Great thinking. In regards to Check-In-usage, we are well behind in Europe. Which makes it all the more interesting to understand what social impklications this has.

    Started me thinking: what is the percentage of (young) women on Foursquare? Can't imagine it is very high.

    So, while I think Foursquare is tappinbg into something remarkable, I agree privacy issues must be addressed.

  13. greeblemonkey Avatar

    Tedious! Yes. And now with so many apps, I need a aggregator to check in at all these places for me. Andrew, I am coming close to the same conclusion as you. Still need to mull it, because there are parts I like, but I totally agree there needs to be more security features built in. Great post.

  14. Greg_Gerber Avatar

    The problem isn't location based services/games… It's that they are almost ALL based on checkins. Check-ins are the most uncreative way of using lat/long there is. More here:

  15. Greg_Gerber Avatar

    The problem isn't location based services/games… It's that they are almost ALL based on checkins. Check-ins are the most uncreative way of using lat/long there is. More here:

  16. Mark Solon Avatar

    Whem I moved to Idaho ten years ago, I opted out then 🙂

    I like your thinking Andrew, enough's enough…

  17. Suzanne Lainson Avatar

    Privacy will be the new killer app. Once everyone is connected, the cool thing will be to not available. Of course, it's always been that way — the top tiers of people protecting their access. But we've moved away from it lately. I think exclusivity will become popular again.

  18. Manisha Avatar

    There's another use for these services. Who do I *not* want to meet? Where are they currently? *So* not going there! [grin]

  19. nuxnix Avatar

    Interesting post. There has to be a better use for location based services than 'bragging rights'.

    I was using google maps on my iPhone yesterday having been diverted on the train. I could see my new destination, and I could see where I was, but I couldnt see my friend who was coming to pick me up – now *that* would have been useful!

  20. jkimlosangeles Avatar


    Great post – everything you wrote makes sense. I can see the imbalance. I am bummed that you had a stalking experience. Let me throw out a couple of comments:

    Why check in today? The value is friend finding and ego boo. These values are strong enough to draw trial and interest among some of the most digitally addicted but probably not strong enough to attract the mainstream. A product plan based purely on these values would not be funded today.

    The toughest problem for companies in this space is solving the cold start problem. It forces products to focus on more superficial benefits however once data is flowing, new opportunities will emerge and great value will be generated. Companies are not talking widely about these opportunities publically yet because the opportunity is too enormous and the space too competitive.

    Don’t commit LBS suicide just yet. In the 90s, people could not imagine putting their credit card information on the internet. When social networks first emerged, people could not imagine uploading a picture of themselves for anyone to see. I remember first using AOL and thinking AOL Chat, is this all the internet has to offer? You are right, there is an imbalance today but it won’t last.

  21. […] month, Andrew Hyde, coordinator of TechStars and startup enthusiast, very publicly committed location-based suicide and debated the move with Robert Scoble, and Ben Parr from TechCrunch.  Andrew gave up on […]

  22. Chris Avatar

    I'll likely never have to worry about this, because I don't use any of the services (FourSquare et al) mentioned — but if I did, and if some whacko arranged to “run into me” someplace I went, I'd immediately — like, right then and there — turn and start following HIM around, just to see how HE liked it. It would be worth the time and trouble to annoy / pester someone who'd done it to me. IMHO that's what you should do.

  23. Chris Avatar

    I'll likely never have to worry about this, because I don't use any of the services (FourSquare et al) mentioned — but if I did, and if some whacko arranged to “run into me” someplace I went, I'd immediately — like, right then and there — turn and start following HIM around, just to see how HE liked it. It would be worth the time and trouble to annoy / pester someone who'd done it to me. IMHO that's what you should do.

  24. andrewhyde Avatar

    So have not missed it at all.

  25. […] Andrew Hyde decided to commit location based service suicide because his interaction with sites like FourSquare led to him being discovered in the real world. It is disconcerting when someone shows up on your doorstep due to your interaction online. I know from personal experience due to a bad interaction with Samsung posting my personal information on their website and I subsequently received phone calls and had people show up at my door wondering where to pick up equipment. But that wasn’t due to my voluntary interaction with a public location based social network. All social networks are doing something behind the scenes with your information, from linking you to various people a la six-degrees-of-separation, to selling your contact information directly; you are an asset when you consume a free service. Wait, you are not just an asset, but you are pure profit as you work to meet certain goals that are set before you… check in here, there, notify everyone you know, scout out more people to link to, and in general be the big guy on the block. You get a buck off for that effort. So, in essence, you are compensated by consuming a possibly addictive drug. Cool. […]

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