PleaseRobMe aggregated all of the messages from location-based services like Foursquare, Gowalla and BrightKite, and offered a listing of "all those empty homes out there". It caused quite a stir and brought an issue to mind that many early adopters weren't at first concerned with - privacy.Earlier this year, a website called
Ever since, privacy has been a topic in the forefront of the location-based services (LBS) arena, and today Foursquare is announcing some more finely-tuned controls for how users share location and contact information with others.
"It seems that a lot of concerns over information sharing on location-based services arise from confusion over what is shared and where it's shared," the Foursquare team writes in its blog, "so we've put together an explanation of the different ways foursquare uses and shares location information."
The privacy page gives a quick run-down on how information is shared, but even better than that is the privacy grid, which breaks down information sharing via Foursquare into a number of different scenarios. The grid explains what is shared by default with who and how to adjust that particular setting.
Foursquare has made a number of changes to user settings, allowing users to control whether or not they share their email or phone number with friends, show links to Twitter and Facebook profiles on their Foursquare profile page, show them in the "Who's here" list and their participation in "Mayorships". Why are these changes important?
When ReadWriteWeb's Marshall Kirkpatrick recently checked-in to the liquor store, just for the points (as he told us later), he unwittingly became mayor at the local purveyor of spirits. When it asked if he wanted to share, he said no, but because he became mayor the service automatically pushed a notification to his Facebook account for all to see. I quickly and jokingly called him a lush, but we were all immediately aware of the implications of the situation. He had intentionally not shared that particular check-in with the Internet at-large, but Foursquare chose to share it anyways. Thankfully, the latest privacy settings give finer granularity in what Foursquare users share with who.
The company's fireside chat about privacy and tweaking of user settings comes just in time for Facebook's upcoming launch of its Facebook Places feature, a service many might be weary of in light of past privacy offenses by the world's largest social network. We have to wonder if Facebook will handle its privacy controls similarly or if we'll have another opt-out fiasco on our hands.