Foursquare tracks where you are even when the app is closed


A woman uses her smartphone in Tokyo, Japan in this 2014 file photo. (Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg)

The all-new version of Foursquare, announced Wednesday, “learns what you like, leads you to places you’ll love,” and tracks your every movement even when the app is closed.

Foursquare, which burst onto the social network scene in 2009 with its feature letting users “check-in” at different locations, has redesigned its mobile app from the ground up with a new layout and a new logo, completely removed the “check-in” feature, and added a “hidden” feature to collect users’ GPS coordinates any time their phone is powered on.

One possible use: if you’re a big fan of steaks, you can get suggestions sent to your smartphone about a new steak restaurant around the corner without even opening the app.

Foursquare has tracked users’ locations since 2011 but only when the app was in use — the same way that other services like Twitter work. And users had to opt in to the tracking in order to use it for services like real-time tips from other users for what food to order at a given restaurant, for instance. Now, users are automatically tracked — although they can also choose to turn that function off.

“The concept of passive awareness using the Foursquare app isn’t a new concept,” the company said. “The whole purpose is to learn what people like to do and where they like to go, so our service can provide the most relevant search results for them. That information is shared only between Foursquare and the user, and no one else.”

Users who updated their old Foursquare 7.0 to the new version will continue to share their locations with Foursquare if they have previously opted in to passive awareness. These users are notified by Foursquare with the messages saying, “Foursquare uses your phone’s background location to help you find great places, and the best tips for when you’re there. You can change this at any time in your settings.”

In the on-boarding process, Foursquare notifies all users who transition from the old version to the new one that they will share their location with Foursquare. (Foursquare)
In the on-boarding process, Foursquare notifies all users who transition from the old version to the new one that they will share their location with Foursquare. (Foursquare)

“Foursquare needs to know the places you go, so we can recommend new places you will love,” the company said in a statement.

The company made some changes in its privacy policy to make it clear that Foursquare will not share users’ real-time location with others in the new app. But Dennis Crowley, chief executive of Foursquare, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that “the company hopes to analyze trends in where users go and what destinations are popular, and may sell that data to its partners” as it searches for new streams of revenue.

This type of passive collection of information could trigger consumers’ concerns toward their privacy, some experts say.

“I am not surprised to see Foursquare move to passive collection of location information. It seems to be something of a trend,” said Ryan Calo, professor at University of Washington School of Law. “The concern for consumers is that Foursquare or its partners will use this information in a way that surprises and disadvantages consumers.”

As Foursquare rolls out its continuous location-tracking feature, Google recently bought Emu, a start-up instant messaging tool with a system to monitor chats, see what people talking about and insert relevant links including ads.

For those worried about what Foursquare’s new tracking will do to their phone’s battery life, the company has a page assuring users that location tracking won’t suck their phone’s power – it only drains by about 0.7 percent per hour.

But for those who are still worried about their battery life — and the potential implications for their privacy — it’s easy also to opt out. Just got to “Profile –> Settings –> Location Settings” and turn off the”Background Location” option.

(Foursquare)
(Foursquare)
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