“If I check in on foursquare, will everyone know where I am?” is probably the most frequent question I get from people when I tell them about foursquare, but somehow I’ve never managed to write an answer to it here on the blog. Consider this post my attempt to correct that.
The short answer is “No!”
As a location-based service, foursquare is keenly aware of the privacy impact of sharing your location. That’s why they’ve gone to great lengths to give users plenty of options to control their location information.
The most important part is that your foursquare check-ins are shared onlyÂ with your foursquare friends. No one else is able to see where you are, because your check-ins are neverÂ posted on your public profile. Foursquare users tend to have a much tighter circle of friends than you’d typically find on Facebook. You should only friend people you trust to know your location, like close friends and family members — not that guy you talked to once in high school.
Foursquare check-ins require that you pull out your phone and explicitly click a few buttons to check in. In no way does it track your location and share it automatically with your friends or anyone else. If you don’t want anyone to know you’re at a particular place, it’s as simple as not checking in. I do this often at places like my kids’ school, for instance.
Each time you check in, you have the option to share that check-in with Facebook or Twitter (I recommend you turn it off by default) if you’re at a particularly interesting place that you’d like to share with a wider audience. Those check-ins (and only those check-ins) are shared with your wider circle of Facebook friends or publicly on Twitter. This is completely optional, and there’s no reason you ever need to share with Facebook or Twitter.
Beyond that, you always have the option to create a completely private check-in that’s not shared with anyone, even your foursquare friends. You are the only person who can see those check-ins. They appear in your private foursquare history, influence your recommendations (these are the number one reason you should be on foursquare!), and make you eligible for a special if one is offered, but aren’t seen by anyone else.
The only time that a location you’ve visited appears on your public profile is if you become Mayor (the person who’s checked in the most over 60 days). It shows you visit a place often, but doesn’t give away your real-time location. You can always opt out of mayorships completely, or remove particular ones from your profile if you’re not comfortable with it appearing publicly.
As you can see, foursquare doesn’t take privacy lightly. There’s no reason to worry that your location will be shared beyond your close circle of friends, unless you explicitly choose to do otherwise.