Did Someone Ruin Foursquare For Me Yesterday?

I was at lunch at Japango with some of my Foundry Group gang yesterday. When I went to my house in Alaska last July, I took a Mac with me but left my PC at home. Ross bet me $100 that before the month was out I’d beg him to fedex my PC to me. He lost and I decided to use my winnings to take whoever was around yesterday out to lunch.

We were enjoying our sushi and talking about random things, like what our family restaurant was when we were growing up (Godfathers, Pizza Hut, Burger King were three of them) and where the smokers hung out at high school. Someone was mid-sentence when the manager of Japango walked up and asked if I was Brad Feld. I said yes; he handed me the landline phone and said “someone is on the phone with an urgent call for you.”

Everyone paused while he handed me the phone.

Me: “Hello?”

Them: In a voice that was clearly masked “Is this Brad Feld”

Me: “Yes, who is this?”

Them: “I wrrrr whrrr your rrrr.”

Me: “I’m sorry – I can’t understand you. What are you saying.”

Them “Brad Feld – I know whrrr you rrr.”

This went on for a few more exchanges. I figured out what the person was trying to say but I wasn’t really processing it so I kept asking what they wanted. Eventually I hung up. I explained to my friends what had just happened and we had a short conversation about checking in on Foursquare and I speculated that was what had prompted the call.

A few minutes later the manager came by, picked up the phone, and asked if everything was alright. I quickly told him the story – he was pretty perplexed and apologized for bothering us. A few minutes later he came back and said the person was on the phone again asking for me. I once again picked up the phone, this time with a little anxiety, but by the time I got on the line the person was gone.

Now, I’ve had my share of Foursquare serendipity moments. I met Kevin Kinsella from Avalon for the first time when he stopped by in a restaurant in New York that I had checked in and was eating at (he was hosting a dinner for me the next week for the Do More Faster book tour in San Diego, but we’d never met in person.) In Boulder, Amy has asked me not to check in until after dinner when we eat together because she doesn’t want the periodic interruption. And I’ve had my share of emails saying something like “I see you are in town – can we get together?”

In general, I like the Foursquare serendipity a lot. I don’t check in at my houses because I don’t want to broadcast where I am overnight, although I will check into a hotel when I’m traveling just in case someone is around. And I’ve got Foursquare wired to Facebook so things show up in my feed. I recently wired up Tripit as well (and to LinkedIn) and that has resulted in some positive serendipity lately.

But yesterday’s call spooked me. I didn’t check in for the balance of the day. When I walked out of Japango, I was a little nervous about where I physically was for the first time I can remember while in Boulder. And I had a heightened awareness of my surroundings last night as I walked home.

I haven’t sorted this out yet, but as an early adopter – and a promiscuous one – of location-based checkin – I’m rethinking how I use this stuff and broadcast where I am. I expect this will be a much bigger issue in the future as humans become transmitters of their location (don’t believe me – just go read Daemon and Freedom.)

I guess it’s a good thing that this just happened and caused me to think harder about the implications. One of the reasons I immerse myself in this stuff is to understand the products and services, but also to understand the impact on humans and our society. While it’s easy to think intellectually about privacy, it’s a whole different deal when you have to process the ideas in the context of real issues that you encounter.

  • Brad, there is a need for something like Circles. I check in very frequently, but I limit my 4sq friend list quite tightly. Then there is Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes I let it broadcast on Facebook, sometimes Twitter, sometimes both, depending on the response I want.

    I agree, getting the “I know where you are and what you did last summer” call is really creepy. A “Circle”-like system or friend grouping system would be a nice addition to all of the LBSes out there.

  • This is exactly why I’m not a big fan of “Checking In!” There are a number of potential situations that i never want to find myself in. I can see checking in in the context of group texting applications whereby you create specific circles of people for specific events like sxsw. But general public checking in is creepy and could absolutely lead to a dangerous situation.

  • I think that the moment you become an “Internet celebrity” you start getting some of the problems “regular stars” are suffering from. If you have a high online profile you need to start thinking about that.

    While I might not suffer from this, there is the serious issue of a smart criminal and house break ins, perfectly able to to track when you are out.

  • To a degree, it’s an issue of balancing privacy and security with the desire for serendipity. I use Foursquare, but generally only check in either when I truly don’t care or when I’m leaving the area — for just the reason you mention above.

    I had an ex- stalk me for a bit through Foursquare & Twitter; fortunately, the experience ranged between disquieting to sad and nothing more, but it could have been much worse. As a defensive strategy, I began checking in to places sufficiently near where I was to be accepted by the app but not close enough where she would be able to circle search and find me quickly. I wonder if anyone else uses Foursquare like that, or if there are any legal cases of someone trying to use Foursquare as a way to establish location as an alibi? Hmmm… maybe that might be an interesting blog post….

  • I think it’s about limiting your circle on FourSquare. My policy is I only “friend” people who I wouldn’t mind stopping by where ever I am (close friends, family, a couple others). Broadcasting to FB and Twitter broadens your circle significantly, and something I rarely do. Your story is definitely creepy, and makes you think.

  • I’m sort of surprised that this hasn’t happened to you before. I think with location based services that you have to take a little bit of care.

    I’m reading Daemon at the moment based on your previous recommendation, enjoying it.

    ps…sorry but I don’t like the Big Door toolbar at all combined with the marginize tag it’s taking up too much real estate. Also didn’t like the check in splash screen that welcomed me when I arrived at your blog.

    • Thanks for the feedback on BigDoor and Marginize. There should be a BigDoor
      option soon to “turn it off” at the end user (your) level if you don’t want
      it there.

      • There is a button on the bottom right that minimizes it. I have to admit being a real-estate junkie and I don’t like a lot of clutter on pages, just gimme the content.

  • There’s a few potential responses to this act of harassment:
    – ignore it
    – stop publicizing check-ins on twitter/facebook (though it appears you don’t tweet checkins)
    – only show check–ins to known friends
    – stop using the service entirely
    – hunt down whoever called and leave a burning bag of dog poop on their (virtual) front porch

    It *IS* harassment, the entire purpose is to cause you pause, to disrupt you. The wonder of 21st century telephony is that this person could have been calling from pretty much anywhere.

    In looking at your 4sq profile, you don’t seem to be sharing your checkins with the world. Assuming you didn’t just turn this off, it means whoever did this is following you (I think, I’m not entirely sure what data is available through the API).

    I tend to check–out, checking into 4sq when I leave or get the check at a place. The one exception is when I’m racing with my wife to checkin first to steal or retain the mayorship.

    I don’t doubt that this shook you, but that also appears to be entirely the point of the call. In however long you’ve been using 4sq, one asshole has decided to go out of his way to ruin your day. Don’t let him.

    • Yeah – I won’t let one person ruin my day, but it creeped me out pretty good
      and caused me to pause and think a lot about this.

      I don’t tweet my checkins because I can’t control followers. I obviously
      control that on Foursquare and then I post them via Foursquare to my
      Facebook feed (where I also control friends). However, I have a lot of
      friends and pretty much accept anyone who looks like a real person so that’s
      something I’m reconsidering.

      • What 4sq needs is a LinkedIn broadcast option. I manage my networks as personal (4sq friends), friends/family (facebook) and professional contacts (LinkedIn/Twitter). If they were Venn diagrams, there is not as much overlap as you might think. As you said, anyone can follow you on twitter unless you lock that down, which is a pain to deal with.

        So for times when you’re in the mood for business serendipity, broadcast 4sq checkins to LinkedIn. If not, then Facebook. If you’re just checking in to remember where you were to to joust for the mayorship, then just your 4sq friends.

        Looking at that last paragraph, I’ve clearly been thinking in pseudocode for far too many years. That could have been a CASE statement.

      • I’ve grouped my friends to a significant extent in FB. There’s a group for “Fraternity Brothers,” another for “Real Friends,” and one for “Work Friends” (they’re not mutually exclusive, of course). I significantly limit what “Work Friends” can see. I used to have a “MafiaWars Only” group – they saw nothing but I’ve since stopped playing and defriended all of them.

        If you’ve been a promiscuous friender, adding this level of control now may, of course, be more labor intensive that you’re willing to accept.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve never had that happen per se, but I used Brightkite for a long time then stopped because I had someone I had a previous acquaintance (someone I didn’t want to be in touch with) find out where I was that way – despite my settings being locked down tight. I suspect they found out innocently enough via a mutual friend – but it creeped me out enough to not post my location anywhere very often. Occasionally I’ll mention going to a football game or some other place I frequent, but usually it’s after the fact. I can’t imagine being as well-known as you are and not having something like that happening on occasion. It can definintely be scary! And good for you for following Amy’s wishes so you can have some modicum privacy when you are out together. 🙂

  • I have no friends on 4sq–I’m on the school board and I have my share of people showing up at my house to pin me down on some issue (with 10 million of cuts coming, this is going to increase). We’ve had issues, including threats.

    Facebook is the local norm, so I generally accept if people are local, but I’ve removed most of my personal info from the profile, including location.

    Twitter–I don’t use the geo.

    4sq is very tough for me because, well, there are 165 cameras in our town run by a private operator with no oversight. I’m outspoken about a lot of things, including the cameras.

    The last thing I want is to give people another way to track me; for the 99% of considerate people without an agenda, there’s that 1% of those that are nefarious to different extents.

    So I use 4sq on occasion just to keep in touch with the app–see what’s new, interesting, cool. It’s a great app.

    Mean people suck.

  • Brad – It is interesting to see that the responses thus far are only from men. I can only offer one woman’s perspective, but have determined that my security overrides the serendipitous meetup that checking in occasionally achieves. I love the serendipity, but being stalked once based on check-ins was enough to force me to continue. I travel a lot – like you, and want my friends to know where I am in general, so I check in to cities rather than many specific locations. For the friends I want to find me specifically, I text, or heaven forbid, call.

    • I’ve a buddy (Brad knows him too, btw) who was stalked via twitter by multiple women & quit it for a long time as a result. I don’t think these apps + features are a bad thing, per se – they just make it easier for the nutbars to do what they’d already be doing using other methods.

    • Yeah – it’s interesting that the only responses so far have been from men. I
      very much appreciate you commenting on this and it’s very consistent with
      how Amy feels about it.

      • My wife is similar to Amy and to Lisa in the comment above. She gets on me if I check in anywhere when we are out with the kids – and really gets annoyed if I check in on vacation somewhere – when the house is empty. she has demanded that I take down any pictures of my kids that might be online.

        I can see a future where we have embargoed check-in’s – or check-in’s that are posted an hour after we get there.

        What is interesting to me regarding these LBS companies is that the one real use I see for them is in the area of loyalty credits. but there are other ways of handling that.

        If you are a 25 year old and just want to see other friends around you – there are any number of group texting services that have popped up this year that will do the trick nicely for you without having to broadcast your whereabouts to everyone in your digital social circle.

        Makes you wonder if these broadcast services really are the future – or are there more circumscribed services we will eventually use.

        • “If you are a 25 year old and just want to see other friends around you – there are any number of group texting services that have popped up this year that will do the trick nicely for you without having to broadcast your whereabouts to everyone in your digital social circle.”

          One of my original criticisms for Foursquare is the anti-friend nature of it. If your friends are out on the town near you and they didn’t invite you, it could be (a) a simple oversight on their part, (b) random and true serendipity that you can now meet up or (c) an intentional oversight where they really don’t *want* you to catch up with them.

          Within my personal circle of friends, I’m one of the few people who use Foursquare, so that’s not a factor for me. To be honest, I’m not quite sure why I use Foursquare, other than the game like aspects of it.

        • always smart and interesting Harry. Never thought of it that way

      • I have LONG said that geostalking was primarily a gender-related issue. Most men just don’t have to worry about it that much. As a social media junkie and early adopter, I also embraced every new thing that came along. I teach a class at Portland State in social media marketing and I counsel clients on social technologies, so I feel compelled to try them all. That said, I was always aware of the risks. I thought seriously about the downside of tweeting live from events in 2008 well before geo-local got big.

        In February 2010, I had a much scarier geo-stalking experience than Brad did. My stalkers were hostile and it was late in the evening when it happened. And as a woman, my safety is inherently more at risk. Sad, but true.

        I haven’t used FourSquare or Gowalla since and I don’t miss them.

        You can read about my experience here: http://bit.ly/robmeconvo and here: http://bit.ly/gawkstalk.

        I never personally wrote about my experience because the cyber-stalkers had a forum where they talked about stalking me (and others) and they took great glee in every little bit of publicity that their stalking received, even though they weren’t personally credited. They even said in reference to me that they should target more “social media gurus” because those folks are high profile and will likely talk about it. BTW, the jerk who runs that forum lives about 80 miles from me and looks to be a possible felon (credit card fraud, convenience store theft, etc.). I didn’t want to do anything to provoke him.

        So, how do you like your geo-local now???

        I’ll be mighty surprised if those who live outside the social media echo-chamber adopt geo-local tools en masse.

  • I’ve been very hesitant about using Foursquare and even moreso TripIt for similar reasons. Mainly, for my family’s safety, I don’t want everyone to know when I’m away from home or out of town. While the goal of these services is to share information, the ability for users to limit who can access it is a critical piece of functionality as well.

  • PB

    Interesting post. While I like to think of myself as sort of an early adopter, I also think I’m pretty objective at figuring what works for me, and what doesn’t. Four Sq has not held any appeal to me, and I suspect many of these tech shooting stars are going to be just that – shooting stars. They gain an early audience of mostly early adopters, but ultimately can’t figure out a way to add real value to someone’s life.
    As an example, when I had twitter scan my contacts to see which were registered with twitter handles, less than 5% actually had them. And after a quick scan of the contact names, I can guarantee less than half of those are actually using them.

  • I have a five year old and three year old. Almost everything I do on the web leaves them vulnerable. I know abductions happen more by family members in my head, but my heart doesn’t feel that way. Stuff like FourSquare and Facebook pictures and stories of my kids and living this “open and accessible” life does leave me nervous about these issues. So while I personally am pretty visible, I do try to limit my kids’ exposure as much as I can.

  • Anonymous

    I prefer Latitude since it seems to be easier to lock down and share with only certain people/groups.

  • I’ve watched you post here on your blog, via Foursquare, and TripIt your location and travel plans. I’ve not commented because I assume that you know what you’re doing but I have been surprised by the implied announcements of non- or limited-occupancy of your various homes. Obviously, I can’t tell how widely this information is distributed and certainly we know each other well enough that it’s reasonable for you to trust me with this information.

    Nonetheless, I am not comfortable being as open with this information as you and some of the other commenters are – and I’ve never been stalked nor do I have a profile like yours.

    Good luck, Brad, and stay safe.

  • And by writing this post, you just made a troll very happy.

    Successful troll is successful.

  • For what it may be worth, Path is a fine photo-sharing, quasi-check in service that’s more intimate and secure than FB or 4Sq. I use 4Sq daily but my girlfriend and family won’t use it. I’ve come to enjoy Path more! Downside: have to have an iPhone.

    • I like Path but I haven’t been using it consistently. But it’s a good
      example of a more limited circle of exposure.

  • As an early adapter, and blogger about these tools http://esd714/wordpress.com the way I use any of the LBS check in apps…

    I have them all wired to my broader networks (Twitter, Facebook, Linked IN etc), but its my option on each check in if I broadcast. I only friend and accept friend requests from people I know in real life, and would not mind running into, or letting them find me.

    Its a little anti-social network I know, but its safe.

  • Anonymous

    I just think of all my stalker ex-girlfriends and this commercial:

    …and that curtails my foursquare usage.

  • Yikes. Sorry to hear this happened, Brad, but it also makes me wonder about your personal policy of accepting “friend” requests on the checkin tool you’re using. I am wide open with my connections on Facebook, less so on LinkedIn (but still see the power of a large circle as enhancing what appeals to me about the services in the first place) but when it comes to location checkin tools, I reject most people who seek to connect with me. Have you gone through your 4square friends and found unrecognizable folk?

    Be safe, amigo, Boulder wouldn’t be the same place without your public presence…

    • Interesting, Facebook is actually my most exclusive network.

      Brad – I know it doesn’t make it any less disturbing, but my guess it was an entrepreneur trying to be creative and then getting cold feet.

      • P.S. definitely not condoning it at all. 4sq serendipity is cool, 4stalking isn’t.

      • Guest

        P.S. definitely not condoning it at all. 4sq serendipity is cool, 4stalking isn’t.

  • http://pleaserobme.com/
    Somewhat prescient

  • This happened to a woman I was at a restaurant with about a year ago. She’s a professional colleague of mine, and we were at dinner with about 10 other colleagues. We were all very spooked, and she stopped using 4sq after that. As I recall, after dinner, we even had someone follow her home and checkout her home to make sure there was no one waiting for her. She was fine – and I don’t think it has happened again.

    To echo Charlie…mean people suck.

  • Brad, don’t forget that when people know where you are, they also know where you are NOT. That’s not always a good thing. Not wanting to make you paranoid, but reasonable caution is appropriate. Check-ins don’t always need to occur upon arrival, and can be done upon exiting a location… and sometimes not done at all. Keep a little mystery in it. 😉

  • @Brad – It wasn’t me! 🙂

    I don’t know about others, but I like the idea of localized awareness of check ins. I’m not so certain “world” to “me” is a good fit, but instead, “others near me” to “me” is a better model. Especially since rudimentary geo-location and some grid mapping can sole that problem.

    I don’t know if I need technology for serendipity, although the way it can be used to generate it is a really neat and ponder-able thought.

    Personal safety is something I hadn’t considered, but I’m so habit driven (we eat at the same restaurants, have a strong circle of friends) that we haven’t really adopted check-ins, even when traveling on business.

    My thoughts are much more in line with Gary Shteyngart’s “Super Sad True Love Story”.

  • This is emblematic of the state of new technologies. It is developed for the cool factor successfully without full maturity on the “day to day” use of these technologies.

    Case in point. A large (to remain unnamed) doll manufacturer did a Foursquare promo having the young girls run around town looking for secret clues to a secret event.

    What were they thinking???

    When I actually called the company horrified – they explained the promo was for girls 18 + – an obvious back pedal from the really bad use of this technology.

    Building cool stuff is fun – but there must be a mature UE design to ensure basic usability that incorporates security and management.

    Alas, IMHO we have a way to go on that score.

    Judy Shapiro

  • Anonymous

    Having been seriously stalked wit restraining orders and court dates BEFORE technology allowed me to announce my location in real-time, I am very cautious. I won’t check-in to a location in Facebook or via Yelp, or post a restaurant review until after I’ve departed, and I can’t imagine using Foursquare. That said, however, I’ve enjoyed your openness since otherwise we could not have easily planned to meet in person when you’ve been in town.

    I like Amy’s approach about uninterrupted time and yours about inviting serendipitous meetings when you’re in the public realm. It gets creepy when you’re alone and thus more vulnerable.

  • As one of so many entrepreneurs who benefit from your postings and openness, I sincerely hope that the douche bag’s stalking does not close you off to us.

    Regardless, please take care. You are a celeb in this space, and there are too many sick people out there.

  • thats not funny at all.

    I dont believe in checking in. I dont really know what purpose it serves save for the odd serendipitous moment as you point out.

    the business model is not there either – if it is, its opaque.

    and fourstalking is creepy.



    • I left Foursquare over a year ago, and it’s coming up on the first anniversary of my leaving Facebook. I’m sticking with Twitter and LinkedIn, though.






        • I don’t want to play Angry Birds anywhere 😉

        • LOL! I’m with Ed (znmeb). I don’t wanna play Angry Birds (or angry anything) anywhere.

  • That’s very scary. Sorry that happened to you.

    Crap like that wrecks the cool stuff.

  • Sorry to hear that, Brad. This happened to me in New York and completely spooked me also. I was on my own at the time and very wary travelling back home on the Subway. Looking over my shoulder and around me in case someone was stalking wasn’t a pleasant experience. It certainly made me think twice about checking into 4square and Gowalla after that. Even with careful friend selection, I completely forgot that others can view it on the web interface and see who is at a venue. Unnerving.

  • guest

    Nice to see people waking up to the problem with services like Fourstalker!

  • Some technologies are easier to adopt when you carry a gun.

    • Some people think the solution to everything is carrying a gun.

  • My son turns 13 next week. He has not lied about his age to get on FB. He knows, however, that all of his friends have multiple accounts – one that M&D are friends on, and one that they have their closest friends on (yet another reason why I do not believe the FB user statistics growth represents wider adoption),

    And the idea of having your kid check in is good, but it depends on him checking in. Wouldn’t a text be just as good?

    But 13 is responsible enough to gauge privacy levels, I guess. This is why privacy and personalization are the next big waves. When the crowd gets too big, the widsom wanes and the risks wax.

  • Downside risk outweighs upside serendipity. Minimize the risk by “Checking Out” rather than “Checking In”.

  • Mr_Lucas_brice

    Generation Stupid discovers the concept of privacy.

  • Brad,
    Jarring experience indeed. Serendipity vs. Safety. I prefer Safety. I don’t send “rob me” tweets/FB/4sq updates. Heck, I don’t even use 4sq for that reason. I have but one home, and telling everybody I’m not there while traveling doesn’t seem to make total sense to me. In the real world, you are private by default, public with effort. Online, you are public by default, private with effort. And very often, privacy is either unachievable or just an illusion. This is just one example on how “advertised LBSs” can easily be exploited. There are others, of course.
    You were shocked for the rest of the day. I’d be interested how you ultimately adjust your usage patterns given your personal experience.

  • Anonymous

    Tylernol – That is exactly what I picture when I think about my personal info being stalked by the wrong people.

    So sorry you had to go through that Brad.

  • interesting.

    how many foursquare friends do you have.

    • A couple of hundred.

  • Eliza7654

    FourSquare is so much fun but you really need to be “aware” of how you are using it and who you are accepting as your “friends”. Anyone you accept into your friend circle can see where you are when you ckeck-in. The only people I don’t know on my friends list is Pee-Wee Herman and any brands I “follow” to unlock other badges. Don’t let an unfortunate experience ruin the fun! Just be more selective about what you choose to share and who you accept as a friend.

  • Wow, hot topic. I had some creepy things happen to me with Foursquare too so I stopped checking in when I’m away from work or with my family. I now only use it for work hours, shortly before work, during work, and sometimes afterward, depending on what I’m doing.

  • Cdturner

    The only suggestion I’ve not seen is follow up on it.

    Get the restaurant to pull the phone numbers/caller id, pass it on to the authorities. It would be good for your own piece of mind to know if it was someone local or someone just screwing around from somewhere else.

    Don’t treat these thing lightly, these things are beyond a yellow card.

    Be safe.

    As far as foursquare goes, having multi-teared check-ins would be an almost obvious must. This is not really a safe world, and the internet seems to bring out the best and the worst in people. We approach the sites on the internet as if we are just talking to a few friends over a beer in a quiet corner of a bar, and yet most of our information is visible to a couple of billion people. People have always had different groups of people for different reasons, some you check-in with one a week, some once a blue moon. “Why would anyone else care ?” is the same thing as security through obfuscation.

    I deactivated my facebook account for a while and found once I got over the withdrawal the lack of endless notifications quite refreshing, it was REALLY getting in the way of writing code.

    • If this person was clever enough to disguise their voice, I’m sure they didn’t use a phone number from which they could be tracked.

      • Cdturner

        Hopefully Brad will followup. People who do strange things are often not as methodical as you think.

        The phone company can still pull the number even if its blocked. If its a cell phone you can at least get a city where it was broadcasting.

        Piece of mind. The more you know the better you can assess the situation. Otherwise the icky feeling doesn’t go away….

  • Wow, that is wrong. I’ve been thinking a lot of about that as well and I had a friend who checked in at a bar and one of her ex-boyfriends showed up trying to talk to her. He mentioned that he knew she was there because she checked in. I now double check myself to make sure if I really want to share where I’m at when trying to share with my friends.

  • Brad, @carribugbee crossed this bridge a long time ago. I left Foursquare when she did and I won’t be going back.

  • I am very open with my checkins on multiple platforms, and haven’t had any problems until recently on Foursquare…

    I was at the gym over the weekend, and later that evening I received an email from a gent…He reminded me of what I was wearing when he saw me and told me that he thought I was cute…Now, every time I go to the gym, I try to see if that person over there grunting on the weight machines looks anything like the avatar image that emailed me…Overall, it spooked me out; however, I still check in at the gym. I NEVER check in at private homes, but that doesn’t mean somebody couldn’t follow me home, if they knew I was a regular.

    I am a big fan of foursquare and am aware of the potential security downfalls…I like to think that I am proactive and aware of my surroundings at all times…We all know the “but” that can end that statement.

  • Hank Johnson

    That is a bit creepy – I always wondered if there was a down side to 4sq

  • There are always some negatives for every advance. The solutions always are about creating balance. Making the good far outweigh the risks. Having the means to take precautions. All social networks need to get their act together on this issue.

  • It’s interesting to me in scanning through the comments here that the consensus is that this was “creepy”. Cold calling someone I don’t know at a restaurant where they are eating is not something I’d do, and probably not something Emily Post would approve of, but what’s the point of location check-in services if not to share our location?

    I tend to be an early adopter of new technologies but I actually haven’t started using the location check-in services because I haven’t decided whether I’m comfortable with it or not. But if I did check in somewhere publicly I’d expect that people would..you know…know where I am. If I were going to use such a service I’d probably use one where I was only sharing the information with my friends.

    Aside from speaking at a conference or something of that nature I can’t think of when I’d really want to announce my location to the world. But I think I’m an edge case there. Interestingly I’m not overly privacy paranoid in general, but the location thing seems to be a line for me.

    • The creepy part was not that they called, it was the muffling of the voice
      and what they said – basically “we know where you are.”

      • Oh yeah that part would be creepy. It wasn’t clear to me if the bad audio quality was on purpose or not. I was assuming just a bad connection. If it was intentional then that’s not good manners at all.

        • I’m 100% sure the bad audio was on purpose. It was just too deliberate

          • Brad, I hope you’re safe. I saw this post in Tech Review and admit I felt concerned. I’ve used check-in services from time to time, and they can be very useful in some contexts, but it seems that our overall relationship with technology hasn’t quite caught up to the existential reality yet.

  • jameshrh

    The Echo Gen is so exactly like Boomers, just different in the specifics.

    Promiscuous sharing of info online by Echo Gen = Boomers promiscuous sex & drug use. They will wake up to it’s dangers only after it bites them hard.

    The Echo Gen sees parents as friends, but that does not stop them from wanting to change the world by ignoring human nature.

    Best of luck kids.

  • That blows, I read this and had a little bit of a geek hangover.

  • Yeah this is one of the protective social networking sites.. Thanks for this..
    Aluminium Kozijnen

  • Yikes.

    I’ve mostly had positive experiences with the serendipity of FourSquare & Twitter. But if I’m honest I often prefer to check in toward the end of my meal – especially in LA. If I’m traveling I’m more likely to think, “OK, maybe I’ll meet somebody new here.”

    I recently received a very scary written letter from somebody clearly disturbed to my office and quoting my blog. It did creep me out and make me think harder about “how much open is too open?”

    My line right now is Facebook. I still don’t like to random people there since that’s where I have pictures of my kids, messages to my family. It’s why I’m worried about the erosion of privacy at Facebook.

    • I think check-ins do accelerate serendipity—almost always within the context of the spaces we visit. So why broadcast it to the world, unless you’re primarily trying to promote some place? (There are better ways to do that, too.)

      I’m OK with the people around me in a space knowing I’m there. In fact, I often want them to know I’ve arrived. Posting a check-in to people who have “bought in” to being in the same place as I am seems to be the best way to accentuate the positive (serendipity, loyalty) and eliminate the negative (stalking, junking up news feeds).

      Make sense at all?

  • I think it was Seth or Jason 🙂

    You should have *69!

  • Kimdavisking

    Creepy, just think if you had children. I really limit who I have on Foursquare and Facebook. Foursquare checkin also is an indication you are not at home. Scary thought if used wrongly.

  • Especially for women, the obvious dark side of ubiquitous default publicness has been glossed over by the Scobles of the world. And the privileged, white male 21- to 35-year-olds building these services can’t imagine any downsides themselves. They’re mostly building data-stripping ad-serving honey traps anyway, right?

    There are powerful *potential* benefits to users of location-based services, and I continue to use foursquare, I guess mostly because I am curious to see what comes of it. For the moment, there aren’t a lot of people who are out to harm me (nor many who simply want something from me), and the compromised privacy comes at little cost for a boring middle class male like me. Regardless, I think it’s a good thing that you’re raising some concerns about the unintended consequences of this hyper-specific sharing with strangers.

    It’s a little comical to me, on the other hand, that you’re essentially in the business of giving money to people, and you’re apparently irritated by “emails saying something like “’I see you are in town – can we get together?'” after offering details of your whereabouts to the entire internet. We have a lot of etiquette 2.0 yet to work out [http://schedule.sxsw.com/events/event_IAP6384], but you don’t think there’s an implicit openness to conversation when you “check in”?

    • Adrian Meli

      Andrew, agree completely, can’t imagine I woud want my daughter, girlfriend, wife, mother, or anyone else to be exposed to the service for that reason. It just takes one crazy person out there. The downfall of Foursquare more or less seems inevitable as utlimately someone will be exposed to danger before this grows to scale thus scaring off a lot of the network effect…

      • The answer is simple… Only friend people you know and understand the implications of maintaining a friend relationship with people you aren’t comfortable telling them where you are.

        There’s a reason that there are privacy settings… its a shame that so many people take them so lightly and that people see their number of “friends” as a measuring stick of some sort.

    • Jean_ma

      Having dealt with over the last 20 years with the “can’t really let go” ex-boyfriend, “strange guy from high school” who’s found me several times online despite e-mail address changes, the creepy “overly interested in visiting my LinkedIn profile” ex-co-worker, you are dead spot on about it being more murky for women in the connected social sharing world.

      I have both an open and private twitter feed – the public one is strictly professional nothing personal goes out on it. My facebook page is locked down and app disabled, and my profile LinkedIn is my only other public space. I won’t use Foursquare because I’m not comfortable with unknown people getting a sense of what places I frequent or routine I follow. I really resisted public participation for a long time for these reasons. I’ve conceded because it’s important professionally – but think 3x about anything I post and where. I’ve opted to forgo serendipity for caution. I wish it were otherwise.

  • Anonymous

    Brad, thank you so much for sharing your experience and insights. I signed up with Foursquare early on because I like testing and experimenting so that I am equipped to guide my clients. However, the notion of checking in everywhere leaving bread crumbs to my location never sat well with me. I am widowed, and my husband’s conscientiousness about security has stuck with me. I like many women just didn’t feel safe exposing real time whereabouts and a pattern of behavior. So I’ve checked in sparingly and often after I’ve left the location. Your experience reminds us all to have a healthy amount of caution about what and when we share.

  • I had a situation when I checked in somewhere on Foursquare once. Now, I ‘check OUT’ instead.

  • I had a situation with someone showing up because they saw I was at a Foursquare location once. It was someone from Twitter who had wanted to meet me, but I declined the invitation, so, they decided to ‘make it happen’. Now I am sure to only “CHECK OUT” of locations on Foursquare.

  • Interesting post and implications. There are some things you can do to protect your privacy on foursquare (http://4sqindy.com/how-to-protect-your-privacy-on-foursquare/). I glanced at your foursquare profile and noticed that you’ve got some 810 foursquare friends. That’s a lot of location sharing – coupled with your facebook friends (2652). The average foursquare user has far fewer connections. Users need to give some thought to who they share their information and location with.

    I think the issue is less about the technology or social network and more of a connection concern. I hope the readers think about this. I imagine some may have missed your point and skipped to fearing foursquare – in which case, they would have missed the point all-together.

  • Billmosby

    Maybe if you checked in at a gun range from time to time….

    Just trying to be funny. Suspect it might not be to some, though.

  • I deleted my foursquare account after my house was broken into last year. I was gone less than 30 minutes and they grabbed all gadgets / computers. I don’t know for certain that foursquare was involved, but the combination of location-based search on twitter combined with foursquare just seems a little too tempting for local bad guys. It would be foolish to think they couldn’t figure this out.

  • what about this feature…offering a 24-hour delay cloaking or stealth mode. you can broadcast what you did *yesterday* and still leave the breadcrumbs and tips for friends. maybe at a convention, you become visible in real-time. it defeats much of the purpose of some geo-location apps but you might find apps need to offer this.

    p.s. i hope it’s just your buddy who had to pay you $100 on the pulling prank, i.e. “you’ve been punked!” has to be hight on your suspect list. but a freaky story anyway and food for thought.


  • It would be great if Foursquare was similar to facebook, where only people you’ve “accepted” can know of your location. I stopped checking in regularly a few months ago, because I had issues with announcing my location.

  • It would be great if Foursquare was similar to facebook, where only people you’ve “accepted” can know of your location. I stopped checking in regularly a few months ago, because I had issues with announcing my location.

  • Recently I have asked one of the artists that I manage to no longer use Foursquare, unless he set up a profile under a different name (like we already had to do with facebook). People of note, like yourself and the artist in question, sadly should be a little bit more aware of what kind of personal info they broadcast, just to protect their own privacy and peace and that of the fans themselves.