Foursquare's New App Needs New Privacy Controls
In early June, the popular location based service foursquare overhauled its mobile app. As a result of these changes, users can now see all of their friends' check-ins from the last two weeks. Many users may not understand how much of their location history is visible to their friends, and even those users aware of the details have no practical way to opt out. And while forcing users to share that sensitive information might be popular with hitmen, it might not be popular with foursquare users who now broadcast location history to their friends (and maybe soon to their friends' intensely curious apps?) without expecting or intending to. Help us tell foursquare to give you the tools to control your own location history.
foursquare's new mobile app allows a user's friends to see all of her check-ins for the past two weeks, as opposed to only being able to view a few of the user's most recent check-ins. This has significant privacy implications, as historical location data reveals far more about a person than a small number of location records. Although one check-in can reveal quite a bit about what you're doing and who you're with, your location history includes patterns in your behavior that expose more than you might realize: do you check in at that coffee shop after a religious service every week, only when there's a career fair nearby, or at the same time as another person every Saturday morning? And even if foursquare has already retained historical data for internal use, exposing location history to other users is a big change.
Front-page billing, but the details are lacking.
foursquare also failed to give users the ability to control the visibility of their location history. At minimum, users should be given the choice to simply keep their location history hidden and retain the same level of privacy they had before—and the default option should be retaining the prior setup until users choose otherwise. But right now, foursquare does not give users a meaningful way to retain the prior limitation on location history visibility. Instead, it offers users two inadequate options: delete old check-ins individually or check in "off the grid" so that no one can ever see the check-in. Both of these options put the burden on users to monitor and groom their own location histories and hinder users who want their friends to see where they are right now. foursquare needs to replace this unwieldy suggestion with tools that enable users to control the privacy and visibility of personal information such as location history.
There are several steps that foursquare should take to address the privacy concerns with increasing location history visibility:
- Provide all users with a more detailed explanation of the increased visibility of their location history as a result of the changes to foursquare's mobile app.
- Give users effective privacy controls that allow them to control the visibility of their location history, including the option to keep the same visibility for past check-ins as before.
- Require that users specifically consent to sharing their location history with an app, whether they run the app themselves or their friend runs the app.
Help us let foursquare know it needs to give you control over the visibility of your location history. Send them a tweet @foursquare or @4sqSupport telling them to give you control over your location history – write your own or just retweet ours!
Chris Conley is the Technology and Civil Liberties Fellow with the ACLU of Northern California.