Last month, foursquare found themselves embroiled in a privacy row after CultofMac reported about an app that was using publicly available foursquare data to find girls (or guys) in a particular area. Foursquare moved quickly to ban the app from using their API, but had no way to prevent new apps from popping up and doing essentially the same thing. On Tuesday, foursquare API evangelist Akshay Patil announced a change to the API that should eliminate such privacy concerns, while maintaining the general usefulness of the “here now” feature of the apps.
The change — which will be implemented in early June, giving app developers time to adjust — eliminates the ability for users to see the strangers who are checked in to a venue without being checked in to the same venue themselves (“much like how the users could see each other by looking around in real life,” says Patil in the announcement). Users will still be able to see where their friends are checked in whether they’re checked in to the same venue or not.
Creepy apps like Girls Around Me and Nock Nock rely on the data foursquare provides about stranger locations to display a list of people who are checked in nearby filtered by gender. Without that data available in the foursquare API, they become worthless, since they’ll only be able to see your friends’ locations at any place you’re not currently checked in.
Eliminating that data, though, also has an effect on some less-creepy apps that are designed to help you find strangers you should meet nearby. Sonar, whose “places” tab uses results from foursquare to show random strangers nearby so it can determine if you have any shared interests or friends, is one of those apps. CEO Brett Martin says the impact of the change will be minor for his app:
Sonar leverages data from across a number of sources, including Foursquare, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, so our users’ experience will not be negatively impacted. We work closely with Foursquare and are already in the process of making some minor adjustments on the back-end to accommodate the Foursquare API changes.
Assisted Serendipity, an early favorite of foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley, relies exclusively on the “here now” data to find venues where the gender ratio has tipped in your favor. Without individual user data for strangers, it essentially heads to the dead pool.
Most foursquare users are unlikely to notice the change, which will also affect foursquare’s official apps. They’ll be able to see other people that they’ve checked in with, but won’t be able to browse other venues to see who’s checked in nearby (unless they’re friends, of course). That’s not an incredibly popular use case for the app anyway, especially as it shifts more toward social discovery and less toward friend finding.
This change patches foursquare’s only real security hole, finally restricting all personal location data strictly to friends the user has explicitly accepted or people who are checked in to the same place (where they could see you and report your location anyway). Foursquare has always been a safe service when used properly, but this should put to rest the final doubts anyone may have about signing up and sharing their location.
What do you think of the change? Will you miss finding strangers at places you’re not checked in? Does this make you feel more secure about sharing your location data?