Privacy Policies 1 - Foursquare Privacy Policy Reviews

Monday, August 30, 2010

Mark Gardner


Originally, this post was going to be about my experiences signing up and using Foursquare, following the publicity over the new Facebook places.

This post is now the first in a series regarding social media privacy policies, which over the next few weeks will look at the Privacy Policies of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

The post morphed into the privacy policy angle almost immediately. Foursquare is all about checking in and finding where your friends are etc. to possibly meet up.

However, given a user base approaching 3 million, mostly I suspect in the US, I hit upon the issue which transformed this post - none of my friends have Foursquare accounts!

One thing whilst signing up via the iPhone app which irked me was the fact that in signing up I was typing my password in clear, which in my experience is neither regular nor good practice.

Then as I got into the site, there were two entries in the footer which finalised the post subject -Privacy 101 and Foursquare Privacy policy.

Screen shot 2010-08-27 at 16.38.18

In this post I review and give my opinions on the documents.

Privacy 101 starts as a great idea, then passwords are typed in clear in the iPhone app, especially given the line "The bottom line is that we understand how important privacy is to you."

My privacy starts with a quality password and already there is the potential for it to be compromised.

From this initial hiccup though the document is very good overall, taken at face value I would trust Foursquare  quite highly with my data, at least if they fixed the password issue!

For example "If for some reason you decide to delete your Foursquare account, your entire check-in history will be deleted." This seems at odds with publicised issues on other social media platforms that I will get to further in this series.

As an aside, what I found interesting were the references and comments made as part of this document. Firstly, (without the Facebook announcement I might have read this differently) "We've been a leader in the location-based services space..."

This to me seems a little negative and past tense. The next sentence seems to give an indication of where Foursquare will try to differentiate themselves from the other social networks: "..and we aspire to be leaders in the way we educate our users on privacy issues related to location awareness."

This is borne out in the paragraph "Foursquare Friends" which specifically highlights the differences between Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter.

What I also like, is the openness and simplicity around the default settings, with the default basically being that some but definitely not all of your information being open from the beginning.

If Privacy 101 is a guide for users regarding their privacy on Foursquare, the Foursquare Privacy Policy is most definitely the legal document behind it.

Immediately Foursquare give their statement of intent "We are committed to giving you transparency of our privacy practices and control over your data." As you would expect the Privacy Policy details the official and legal policies regarding privacy throughout the service's functionality.

The Privacy Policy also highlights parts of the Foursquare business model, it also scopes out the realm of the policy: - "This policy does not apply to the practices of companies that Foursquare does not own or control, or to individuals that Foursquare does not employ or manage."

It is also up front that your data will be used to customise advertising - the Personal Information you provide is used for such purposes as allowing you to interact with other users, improving the content of the Service, customizing the advertising and content you see, and communicating with you about specials and new features."

Overall, what these documents posted by Foursquare aim to do is increase the trust levels of users in them, to host and protect data. As with many things though, the proof is very much in the pudding, although I don't recall seeing many, if any, incidents of breach of privacy with Foursquare.

This was originally posted at

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