Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Foursquare Privacy 101

We like to think the mobile/social products we’re building here at foursquare are pretty powerful and we’re thrilled to have so many passionate users who find significant value in sharing their location with others. However, we know an important concern for most anyone using location-based services is privacy. Where you are and the places you go can often be sensitive and we want our users to be comfortable with how this information is shared via foursquare.
The bottom line is that we understand how important privacy is to you. From the beginning we’ve been working hard to build a robust range of privacy controls into the foursquare experience to give users control over the amount of information they share about their location. We’ve been a leader in the location-based services space - popularizing the concept of voluntarily “checking in” to places - and we aspire to be leaders in the way we educate our users on privacy issues related to location awareness.
To explain what type of information is shared on foursquare, we’ve broken out some highlights below:
Sharing Location
Your location data is ONLY shared with others when you proactively decide to “check in” to tell foursquare you’re at a particular place. Each of your foursquare check-ins is saved to your "Check-in History" which allows you to look back at all the places you have checked in since you created your foursquare account. You can delete any or all of your check-ins from the History page on the foursquare website. If for some reason you ever decide to delete your foursquare account, your entire check-in history will be removed from our database.
Foursquare Friends
To view another user’s check-in information, you need to add them as a friend (and they need to accept your invitation), or you need to accept a friend invitation from them. (Our friending model is similar to Facebook’s “friends” rather than Twitter’s “followers”). Only your foursquare friends can see your feed of individual check-ins.
User Settings
We provide a wide range of privacy controls to all users on the User Settings page. These settings control things such as whether your foursquare friends are allowed to see your email and phone number, whether you want to participate in public Mayorships, whether local merchants can see when you’ve checked into their businesses, and options for sharing your foursquare actions with Twitter and/or Facebook.
Determining Location
Whenever you open the foursquare app on your mobile phone, we use the location information from your phone to tailor the foursquare experience to your current location (i.e. we’ll show you a list of nearby venues, friends and tips). This information is NOT published to your profile or shared with others. We save this information until the next time you launch the foursquare app, at which time we delete your old location information and replace it with your most recent location information.
Who’s Here
One of the benefits of foursquare is that it allows you to connect with other users in your neighborhood. We’ve specifically designed features that can give you a glimpse into which other foursquare users (both friends and non-friends) are currently checked in at nearby venues. In our mobile apps, you’ll find this information listed under the heading “Who’s Here” when you click on a venue. Since we realize some folks may not want to appear on this “Who’s Here” list, you can opt out of this feature on your User Settings page.
"Off the Grid"
Sometimes you’ll want to check in without sharing your specific whereabouts with friends. This is why we created “off the grid” check-ins -- a way of adding places to your check-in history, earning points and badges while letting your friends know you’re out, all without disclosing your specific location to them. We find this comes in handy on dates, dinners with parents, or at a coffee shop when you’re just trying to get some work done - really anywhere where you don’t want to friends to drop in. To check-in “off the grid”, simply select “No” on the “Share this check-in with friends” option seen on every “check-in” screen across our mobile apps. 

Twitter and Facebook
Foursquare gives you the option of sharing some of your activity to your Twitter and/or Facebook accounts. Of course, when you publish foursquare check-ins, Mayorships, or badge unlocks to Twitter or Facebook, this information will be viewable by the communities on those services (and in the case of Twitter, may be discoverable by search engines). Please see our FAQs for more information on what happens when you choose to connect your foursquare account to your Twitter or Facebook accounts, and how you can adjust which information you share across these services.
Sharing Matrix
Foursquare was designed to make it easier to share your favorite places and experiences with friends. We do this in several ways, including check-ins, Mayorships and badge unlocks. For an outline of what information is shared only with foursquare friends vs. the wider foursquare community (and what controls you have over what is shared) please review the table here.
Privacy Policy
For further detail on foursquare’s approach to these issues, please see our privacy policy.

Last Updated August 17, 2010

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Foursquare FAQ

What is a foursquare check-in?

When you tell foursquare where you are, that's called "checking in". You can check in from parks, bars, museums, restaurants, libraries...really anywhere. When you check in, we'll let your friends know where they can find you and award you points and badges based on your adventurousness. You should only check in once to where you are at the time--no drive by check-ins or couch check-ins, please! 

Where can I check in on foursquare?

You can check in any place that has location: a coffee shop, a park, the bridge you're strolling over, an airport, your home (yes, this is allowed! we'll even have a way to mark these locations private and friends-only soon), your office--basically anywhere. We find that the community mostly self-polices what is acceptable (if you create a faux venue along the lines of "Yo Momma," chances are someone will keep closing it...), so try to remember that those around you use foursquare for fun and to discover places around them as well. Many local businesses offer specials (10% off Pinkberry with a check-in, for example) for a check-in or for being the mayor of a venue--keep an eye out for the yellow "Special Nearby" icon when you're checking in to discover new venues offering deals near you!

How do I check in on foursquare?

Load up your foursquare app on your device, click "check in" and then select the place where you currently are from the Places tab. Venues will occasionally be grouped into "My Favorites" or "Nearby" lists, helping you find the venue you're looking for even faster. If you don't see the venue listed, click "Not in List?" and search for the venue by partial name (to guarantee best search results), and click the big green button to check in. You can then decide whether you want to tell your friends where you are or keep your check in private (i.e. "off the grid") You also have the option to add a "shout," (think: adding context to your check-in and letting your friends know what you're doing) as well as to publish to Twitter and/or Facebook if you've linked those accounts in your settings.

What does [off the grid] mean?

An "off the grid" check-in is a private check-in where you hide your location. Sometimes you'll want to check in without letting your friends know where they can find you.
Why? You could be on a date, out to dinner with your parents, or someplace you don't want people to know about...all while still wanting to check in to earn badges and see your check-ins later in your history page.
"Off the grid" checkins allow you to still use foursquare without broadcasting your location to everyone, but your friends will see that you checked in, just [off the grid].
Hint: to check in off the grid, just de-select "tell my friends" on the check-in screen of your app.

How often can I check in on foursquare?

We don't set limits on check-ins, per se, but if our system thinks you're checking into too many places in a short amount of time, or checking into two places that are too far to travel between, or consistently checking into places that are far from where your device thinks you are, we won't award points, badges, or mayorships for your check-in. Only check in where you are at the time, and it's accepted that you should only check into a place that you are actually at (i.e. not just walking by).
Foursquare is meant to be a social utility that helps you connect with your friends and track your own personal history

How can I become a mayor in foursquare?

If you've been to a place more than anyone else we'll crown you the "The Mayor" of that place.
We calculate mayorships based on the most *days* with check-ins in the past 60 days (so 2 check-ins to the same place in one day just count 1x). Look out though - if someone else comes along who has checked in more days than you, they will steal the "Mayor" title back from you. A lot of bars and cafes now offering "Mayor Specials" -- a free coffee or appetizer or maybe a special discount to the mayors of their venues (and sometimes just to anyone who checks in! Watch for the yellow "Special Nearby" icon in your app).
(Hint: if you want to become mayor, you will need to have uploaded a profile photo to your account via your settings page)

What are foursquare badges?

Badges are little rewards you earn based on your check in habits (for example, frequenting too many karaoke bars, eating lots of pizza, taking your kids to the playground). We're constantly adding new badges, and now you can earn fun badges from some of the brands we partner with (currently Starbucks,, Bravo, Zagat, The History Channel, The Wall Street Journal, Bon Appetit, Lucky Magazine, Thrillist, BART, VH1, MTV and more!). To earn branded badges, find their page by searching or by scrolling to the bottom of the homepage at, then "follow" the brand for relevant tips and themed badges.
In the past, many of our badges were earned based on venue "tags," but we've changed things up a bit to make it a bit trickier to earn badges and to keep the tags behind the scenes. Hey, we didn't like seeing every other venue tagged with irrelevant tags either! If you see a venue tagged incorrectly, let us know.

What are foursquare tips and to-dos?

Foursquare to be as much about sharing experience as it as about connecting with friends and discovering new places.  Every foursquare user has the ability to create both "Tips" and "To-Dos" for places. Tips are generally things you'd recommend to others ("Go to PDT and try the bacon-infused Old Fashioned") while To-Dos are more "notes to self" ("Remember to come back and try the pesto noodles"). Whenever you check-in to a location, we'll try to pop-up a tip that one of your friends has left nearby (you'll be surprised how often these help you choose what to order at a bar or restaurant!). And, of course, you can take these Tips and To-Dos with you on your phone so wherever you happen to be, you'll always have a recommendation of something interesting to do nearby.

Where is foursquare available?

You can use foursquare anywhere in the world! Check in at the Statue of Liberty in NYC, the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur or the Arch de Triomphe in Paris! Back in the day, we were limited to select cities, but now you can check in anywhere you please!

How do I add "tips" in foursquare?

Tips are at the center of the activities ecosystem within foursquare - you can jump in and start adding tips by clicking here
You can also add a tip to venues via the app when you are on a venue screen. On the iPhone, tap the box with the arrow on the upper right hand corner and select "add a tip here." On the BlackBerry, when you are on a venue page, you'll see the option to add a tip when you scroll down.
Best practices for tips
  1. tips are about "going here, and doing this" - they are focused on providing relevant information about a location that someone can accomplish while they are there
  2. tips are about something you would want to hear from a friend
  3. tips are tidbits of cached information that someone can stumble upon and "unlock" when they get to a location
  4. we automatically display tips that you've left to your friends, so keep them useful (and no spamming, please!)

Some great tips from our partners:
@ Kittichai: Get an early drunk on at this all you can drink brunch. $20 will get you unlimited Mimosas, Bellinis, or Bloodys, along with an entrée. #thrillist #nyc(January 20, 2010) [Link]
@ Daioh Sushi: Roll in between 7-11PM and choose between a grip of martinis, seven tequila shot, ten sake shots, or three beers for $10. #thrillist (January 20, 2010) [Link]
@ Fatty Crab: Stop by on any Monday to stuff your face with all-you-can-eat Chili Crab for $39. #thrillist (January 20, 2010)
@ The Blind Tiger: More than 50 beers by the bottle and 28 on tap. Craft, imported, Trappist. Don't bother asking for Bud Light here. (1 week ago) [Link]
@ The Standard Biergarten: Besides great views, The Standard hotel also has NY's hippest beer garden. The menu, designed by Michelin-starred chef Kurt Gutenbrunner, includes fat, flavor-packed sausages and plus-size pretzels. (1 week ago) [Link]
@ Nick and Stef's Steakhouse: Hard-core sports fan like this Garment District resto for its secret door into Madison Square Garden. (3 days ago)
@ Yama: Lunch boxes start at $8.50, which includes soup, salad and rice. (3 days ago)
@ Yoshi's Cafe: On Wednesdays wine is offered half price. (3 days ago)
Some great tips from our partners:
@ Daioh Sushi: Roll in between 7-11PM and choose between a grip of martinis, seven tequila shot, ten sake shots, or three beers for $10.

@ Fatty Crab: Stop by on any Monday to stuff your face with all-you-can-eat Chili Crab for $39.
@ The Blind Tiger: More than 50 beers by the bottle and 28 on tap. Craft, imported, Trappist. Don't bother asking for Bud Light here.
@ The Standard Biergarten: Besides great views, The Standard hotel also has NY's hippest beer garden. The menu, designed by Michelin-starred chef Kurt Gutenbrunner, includes fat, flavor-packed sausages and plus-size pretzels.
@ Nick and Stef's Steakhouse: Hard-core sports fan like this Garment District resto for its secret door into Madison Square Garden.
@ Yama: Lunch boxes start at $8.50, which includes soup, salad and rice. (3 days ago)@ Yoshi's Cafe: On Wednesdays wine is offered half price.

Can homes or offices be venues on foursquare?

Yes, homes and offices are legit venues (as long as the person whose home it is is ok having their location visible online). If you are a superuser, do not close home and office venues. Feel free to have fun when naming your home as a venue, but please do not use any inappropriate language (your venue will probably be removed in that case).

**We will soon have a way to display venues marked as private to friends only.

How do I create a foursquare venue?

You can create a venue on your phone via the foursquare app. When you are on the places tab, try searching for the venue first. If you can't find the venue, then click the option to add a venue. (tip: if you want to check in somewhere private so that it shows on your history, but not add the place to our system for others to find, you can click the second option after searching for a venue: "check in here without adding the venue")
You can also create a venue on the website:

What is the foursquare stats page all about?

Take a look at your stats page to see where you've been and when you've been there. If you're into infographics and tracking your personal history, you'll love this page. Friends, venues, charts, graphs, percentages--this page has many types of information about your foursquare check-ins, visually and numerically represented. (We're total data nerds and very much into personal tracking, sorry to geek out on you!)

How do I check in from my computer?

Point your browser to, scroll down the page and underneath your friends' feed, click on option # 2 "Check-in (tell us where you are!)."  It will open up a new page (screenshot attached) where you can easily check in!

How do I earn badges?

Earn badges by checking into various venues and exploring your city! While we won't reveal how you can obtain these badges, we'll give you a few hints: some badges are tied to venue "tags" (these are hidden and no longer tied to the tags that users add!) and others may be specific to an event or category. We'd tell you more, but what's the fun in that? (P.S. A simple Google search will provide you with further guidelines, but we do not endorse nor authorize this information :)

I think I should have earned a badge but it's not showing up on my account. What gives?

We don't give away how exactly you can earn badges--it's more fun that way!--but you can probably find details about them by doing a quick Google search (though we cannot confirm third party information about foursquare). If you haven't earned a badge that you think you should have, it's possible that our system has flagged some of your check-ins. Due to our anti-couch check-in controls, check-ins that were made when you seem to be far away from a venue, check-ins that exceed our time limit counts, or check-ins that are farther apart that a person could travel would all be flagged and not earn you badges. Keep your check-ins legit and keep trying out new places (and frequenting your favorites), and you'll earn badges in due 

How can I find out that I'm getting friend requests?

You can opt to receive emails when you get a friend request. You can update this in on your settings page. Make sure there is a check mark next to "Send Emails when my friends check in."
You can also check in the app on the me tab and then click on friends, and then pending friend requests. You can also view friend requests at

How can I become a superuser?

We're revamping our superuser system so that we can better allow users to help. Superusers are vital to foursquare and have been of enormous help so far, but for the time being we're not upgrading people while we make improvements. Check back soon!

How do I get pings or notifications when my friends check in?

Go to and select or deselect who you want to receive pings from on your iPhone or Android device. Make sure that you've allowed pings from foursquare in your iPhone settings app or in your Android preferences (go to the menu, click preferences, and set your notification settings).

*Note that you can only receive pings from friends that are in the same city that you're in.

What is a mayor?

A mayor in foursquare is the user with the most number of *days* with check-ins at a specific place within the past 60 days. Only one check-in per day counts towards your mayorship tally. If you have a lot of check-ins that seem fake or consistently far away from where you are checking in, these check-ins will not count towards the mayorship total. Lots of businesses are now offering specials for the mayor of venues, so be sure to keep a look out for specials nearby when you're looking at the places tab in the app.
Hint: Only users with a photo uploaded to their account (no faceless mayors!) will be eligible, so you should upload a photo from your settings page.

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Friday, August 06, 2010

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