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Foursquare is Changing Its Privacy Policy, Probably Because That Worked so Well for Instagram

Foursquare is continuing to grow despite the very subjective metric that I haven’t seen one of those “Check in Here” stickers at a business in a while. I sort of forgot about Foursquare. Still, they’ve had a great year that saw millions of new users and their three-mbillionth check-in. They’ve branched out their services to be a stronger competitor to Yelp, whose stickers I have seen a lot of around New York. Now Foursquare is telling its users that it’s going to be updating its terms of service, making more user information public. I don’t see this going well for you, Foursquare.

When Facebook recently changed their privacy policy, millions of people posted a meaningless copyright notice to protest. When Instagram announced changes to their policies, millions of users threatened to delete their accounts. People clearly don’t like change when it deals with privacy policies, so why would Foursquare choose right now to announce changes? Is this similar to when one child sees another kid getting attention for bad behavior, so they themselves start acting up to get attention? This isn’t the kind of attention you want, Foursquare.

The big changes to the policy are that Foursquare will start displaying a user’s full name with check-ins, and businesses will have access to longer histories of user activity. Neither of these actually seem too unreasonable, but judging against the Internet’s reaction to other privacy changes in the past few weeks, there’s bound to be some sort of backlash.

The reason Foursquare is giving for displaying full names of users is that they say it will make things less confusing. Previously, people could find other users by searching by their full names, but on check-ins and profile pages, only the first name and last initial is given. I guess that could get a little confusing if you have a lot of friends with the same first name and last initial.

Foursquare is softening this change for users by letting them set whatever “full name” they want in their settings. For example, I can set my Foursquare “full name” to “Doctor Batman TARDIS McGillicuddy” if I don’t want “Glen Tickle” showing up on all my check-ins. (And I just did.)

The other big change is that businesses will be able to see more recent check-ins than in the past. Previously, businesses were limited to only seeing check-ins from the last three hours. Foursquare says a lot of businesses only have time to check their Foursquare page at the end of the day, so they miss a lot of information that could lead to better service for customers.

Again, this seems very reasonable. If the bakery I grab breakfast from most mornings doesn’t check their Foursquare until the end of the day, they won’t see how frequently I eat there, and might not realize what a loyal and valuable customer I am. I could be missing out on free steamed curried beef buns, you guys.

Though Foursquare is extending the time businesses can see who has checked-in, they are keeping the option for users to hide their check-ins from business. That seems to be the big difference between Foursquare’s policy change and those of Facebook and Instagram– users can opt in or out of the changes, or at the very least work around them. Foursquare is also being very straightforward with what the changes are, what they mean, and why they are implementing them.

Foursquare has even laid out an easy to understand version of the policy on their Privacy 101 page. If Instagram was this clear with their policy changes, maybe there wouldn’t have been such a backlash in the first place.

(via TechCrunch, image via whatleydude)

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