My Short-Lived Obsession with Foursquare and My Growing Concern for Privacy

I signed up for Foursquare, the app that lets you check into various locations and unlock badges and deals, shortly after it launched (yes, I’m pulling the “hipster” card on you) at the suggestion of a friend. It was a novel concept at the time, and I found the gaming aspects to be a great way to stay engaged with the product. Eventually, I became addicted. No sooner would I get a toe through the door of an establishment that I’d whip out my phone and hit the Foursquare app to check in. I became mayor of several places, which made me feel awesome and special. I collected a decent number of badges and felt as if I were “leveling up” in real life. Foursquare was pretty damn cool.

My opinion of Foursquare during those first few glorious months

And then, just as quickly as my obsession with the site grew, I became sick of and stopped using it. I’ve since deleted the app and only think about it when the occasional “So and so wants to be your friend on Foursquare!” email pops up in my inbox. I know the site has gained immensely in popularity, so much so that Facebook built their own check-in feature and encourages its users to check in to various places with their friends. But for me, the whole “checking in” novelty has worn off, mainly for one reason:

It dawned on me how creepy it is to have people know where I am at all times.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and more in touch with my “Get off my lawn” side, but when I was using the site, it didn’t really occur to me what a stalker-ish concept the whole thing is. Want to know when I go to the gym? Check Foursquare! Want to know which grocery store I shop at? Foursquare! Want to know when my place is empty so you can rob it while my boyfriend and I are out to dinner? Foursquaaaaaaaaaare! For me, the tipping point was when I had a party and some friends added my address to Foursquare so they could check in. Thanks, guys. Shortly after that I decided that documenting my every location was unnecessary, pointless, and perhaps even somewhat dangerous. Out you go, Foursquare. It was fun while it lasted.

I still admire some concepts of Foursquare–for businesses, it’s a fun way to engage with and reward your customers by offering check-in deals and specials, and the gaming aspect is a smart way to keep users interested (who doesn’t like accumulating points and collecting badges?). And if you think about it, my opinion of Foursquare is more an opinion of most other social sites–I don’t tweet 24/7 or unfold my life’s drama on Facebook because I enjoy at least a semblance of privacy in this digitally invasive era (hell, I still prefer Delicious over Pinterest because I like the idea of my bookmarks being more low-key). But Foursquare in particular was a turning point for me with social media. I realized that all too often I was willing to sign up on a website or download an app and dive headfirst into it without really considering what the point of it was or whether it was beneficial to me in any way (professionally, personally, as a form of entertainment, etc), and whether I had to give up anything in return (how much of my time, my privacy, to name a few). A lot of people have that same problem,which is why you see so many flash-in-the-pan sites that explode in popularity before fizzling out spectacularly.

These days, I’m a bit more cautious and thoughtful when it comes to trying out a new website or funky app. Instead of becoming an early adopter so I can hipster-boast about how I was one of the first users on board, I’d rather put some thought into it and pinpoint if it’s worth my time and if it’s a product, service, or concept that aligns with my personal beliefs and needs. Foursquare is not one of those sites. Maybe it is for you, in which case it works successfully. But I personally am starting to get turned off by the growing popularity and embracing of tracking everyone’s every move. At this rate we’re not too far off from having The Gap scan our retinas to make purchase recommendations like in Minority Report. The narcissistic nature of social media continues to blur the line between interaction and obsession, and more and more people either don’t realize how public their entire existence has become or don’t care. Both scenarios concern me, partly because I shouldn’t have to know that you just took a really satisfying dump at the Starbucks on 15th and felt compelled to share the news with everyone you know, and partly because if you’re so indifferent to your own privacy, maybe you’re also indifferent to airport body scanners, the Patriot Act, or being strip-searched for any arrest, no matter how minor the violation. And to me that’s a whole lot scarier than knowing which Starbucks you’re at.