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Description: The app world is getting a reality check, thanks to apps like Girls Around Me, Placeme, or even Highlight. So far, when it comes to sharing data, the benefits still outweigh the momentary gut check when your aunt references a party photo or your friends unexpectedly check you in to a place while you told your boss you were home sick.


Date: April 13, 2012

I first heard someone describing an app as creepy when a friend of mine was referencing Highlight. After some older guy she didn’t know popped up as a connection and started eyeing her at a bar, she quickly uninstalled it. Then, at our Structure:Data conference in March, I was sitting with an entrepreneur who dropped the word at least four times in a conversation about how people can use the data his firm is providing, “We have to make sure it doesn’t come across as creepy,” he said again and again.

It also popped up onstage and in the Q&A a few times. Then there’s the furor over how much people could see using the Girls Around Me app that has since been pulled from the App Store. And this week at the TechStars Cloud demo day in San Antonio, I had an entire conversation with a few founders about how creepy apps have become and how they are trying to steer clear of that creepiness themselves.    Read Rest of Story

Questions for discussion:

  1. What is the optimism and fun of sharing a location on Foursquare with your social networks?
  2. What is the downside and fear of sharing a location on Foursquare with your social networks?

17 Responses to “Apps: It’s Time to Talk About the Creepy Factor”

  1. JC

    Foursquare can benefit users in many different ways, it can help users find almost any business, such as a gas station, movie theatre or bar, in a place they may not know very well. The benefit to the businesses that users are frequently visiting and “checking in” to is that these places get good, free advertising. But privacy concerns are definitely a major issue with any kind of app that lets people know where you are. Clearly if you are at the movie theatre or Hawaii, you aren’t at home… and anyone wanting to rob you will have an easy time of it. The fact that anyone who is your friend on Facebook or following you on twitter or whatever other social network you may be on can know your exact location at any time could and should cause some concern for anyone using Foursquare. Many people have no idea who all of their Facebook friends are I only have about two hundred friends myself but some of the people I know have thousands and I know for a fact that the majority of those are acquaintances some of whom these people have never even met. The fact is that when you use Foursquare it is hard to know who knows where you are.

  2. Michael

    People know their data is being used by these companies. One would hope this data is not used in a negative way but I am sure there are times when it is. This is the price a consumer pays for the convenience that the app provides and individuals have to weigh their privacy against the usefulness that the app provides. Security issues are a common problem on phones and people freely share their info with many different apps made by many different companies. When I install an app on my phone I consent to let the app perform specific functions on my phone and enable it to access certain information on the phone. In doing this they use this information most often to help with the services the app provides but often times the app does not need to use that data in order to provide a function. It is collecting that data in order to sell it or use it themselves. This is scary but a part of using a free service in a digitalized world. I consent to the services using my data and what the use it for does not really bother me. As an alternative an individual could pay for an app that generally does not use your services in such away but this business model has proven less effective.

  3. Sarah Lawson

    The fun aspect of FourSquare is basic. People “check in” where ever they are; a restaurant, school, concert, sports game, club, bar, etc, and get rewards from the app for doing so. Gaining status in the apps is aparently the most important thing, but for what? Personally, I don’t see the point of these apps. From a marketing stand point, companies probably benefit from the amount of “check in’s” at their location. This is providing free advertising for these companies which in the long run, may bring in more profit. I believe the disadvantages outweigh the advantages in this argument though because the biggest disadvantage is a dangerous one. The creation of social networks has opened peoples’ personal lives more than anything and people have always been saying to be careful what you post on the internet because you never know who is reading it. FourSquare is a perfect way for not only preditors, but enemies or robbers, etc, to follow your every move. For example, by telling “the world” where you are, says you aren’t home. This could be a perfect opportunity for someone to break into your house if they know where you live.

  4. Sarah Fletcher

    I definitely agreed with a lot of the points the article made. Apps definitely have the potential to cross the line in privacy and become creepy. I personally don’t have any social media accounts. I used to use Facebook but deleted it some time ago. However, I am aware that I can still simply login to Facebook and it’s as if I never left. I find it a little unsettling that my account is simply frozen in time, it’s never really gone. I think even Facebook can get creepy. I found when I used it I knew a lot about peoples personal lives and it wasn’t necessarily stuff I felt I needed to know. It made me wonder what other people knew about me that I may or may not have wanted them to know. It also kind of freaks me out that I have the potential to be tracked through my cell phone. I’m not sure who would bother to track me or what exact process would have to be used for this to happen but I usually have my cell phone on me so it’s not like I would be hard to find. I realize there are potential positives to these technological innovations but I still remain skeptical about the draw backs that they may or may not openly share with us.

  5. cl

    In todays day and age information about all of us is floating around, whether it be on face book, for- square or signing up for a loyalty card at your local supermarket. It is up to the individual to limit what personal information is around, and no one will do it but yourself. I think the idea of foursquare is very not smart, I for one would never be a part of it. Yeah its fun to run into friends in random places, but its different when it isn’t random and you are almost following the person there. This is the first time that I have heard of this app and I think it is a set up for bad. When it comes to limiting personal information this is the opposite, you don’t really know who is watching and following where you are. The other thing about this is that it is sharing with friends with your social network .Which can really mean anything because out of those thousand friends on face book how many would you actually have a conversation with if you bumped into them in the street? I don’t think we have even started to realize the ramifications of this information sharing, but we will see.

  6. Garang

    foursquare is beneficial in that it makes navigation and finding strategic locations very easy. Its an extra added feature to a GPS system that help someone to find a place, such as restaurant, night clubs, petrol station, and more. the ease with which these locations can be founds is an advantage that saves time and energy. in addition, sharing locations is a also a safety feature. Law enforcement personnel can track down a lost or kidnap victim if he or she shares her location on social networking sites. Foursquare is both and security and safety lifeline depending on its usage. On the other hand, foursquare can also provide a wealth of information that can be use detrimentally to the person using it. for example, you can be easily tracked down by your enemies by sharing your location.

  7. dns

    Foursquare is beneficial for helping you find locations of different restaurants, sports bars, malls and many other businesses or recreational places. It can also help you out if you are unfamiliar with a certain place because you can check to see if a lot of people checked into this place and if the ratings are good or not. If you are at the starbucks downtown, and one of your friends is around the area and haven’t seen you in awhile they can stop at starbucks to say hello. This can also be a downfall of Foursquare as well. To always be connected into the system may not be good because anyone can track you down. Someone will always know your whereabouts and if you are out of town for the weekend and it’s posted on Foursquare, they can ensure you are not at home and attempt to break into your home or vandalize your property. Honestly most people, including myself don’t really care where you are checked in. Is it that important to let the world know that you are at the McDonald’s for lunch? I personally think checking into areas and places is pointless and it shows how connected people are to the system of constantly being on gps radar of their whereabouts.

  8. JX

    Sharing a location on Foursquare is so funny thing. When people found their friend is in the same place, or the friend in a special place is so interesting. For example, a person is watching a soccer game and he finds his friend also in the stadium, so they can get together and watch it. In addition, it is a good way to find a place when they do not know where it is. For instance, a man needs to go to a party, but he does not the location and no one answer his call, at this time, maybe he can use this app. And when a person hard to explain where he is, he can use this app. I think it also can be used in police and military. However, it also has a number of downsides. The biggest and most important one is privacy. For example, someone is able to find a person in a hospital, maybe the person will lost some personal information because of it. In addition, it is convenient to a couple to check his or her location. I do not think it is good. It will make more argument in a couple’s daily life.

  9. Tyler

    There is some advantages for using foursquare as an app since it’s allowed people to communicate with friends in order to find what they’re doing and keep up with them. By being able to share what they’re doing it gives them information and helps them meet up with each other. However there are some huge negatives in using the services. By sharing all information with the world it gives corporations a direct line into what you’re doing and what things you like and allows them to sell that information with people who are trying to sell things to you and who would make use of that information. It’s a lot like that recent situation with twitter where they were found to be selling tweets to data mining companies who would make use of things that you say. While there was some belief that the information that gets put out there onto the web would be used in some fashion by companies it’s the extent that it’s getting used that’s a bit disturbing. While there are some disclaimers in the terms of use policies they are extremely long and filled with legalese that makes it very difficult for users to read through them and makes them unaware of these problems.

  10. mp

    I think this creepy factor is just a side effect of having so much personnel access to one another. Is it right or wrong i’m not sure it is ultimately up to the consumer to decide. I think it is fair to say that any app or program on this internet will record anything and everything so whether a user wants to use the program or not is up to them. My grandparents do not have smart phones or Facebook and i’m almost positive there probably isn’t much information on them and that is simply because they do not use these programs. All this information collecting is simply used so business’s can gain information on their customers and deliver better products and service for people. The negative aspect with this positive change is the increased exposure people feel on their lives. And as for getting caught skipping work because someone posted your location somewhere i see that only as a privacy risk not because his boss will see it but rather potential house robbers could see that your not home or your on vacation somewhere and use that to break into your house. This risks are problems but i think as these technologies are developed and used more these problems will be dealt with in order to maintain this progress.

  11. [email protected]

    The article is correct in its observations, and it is heartening that some companies are aware of the creepiness factor of the apps they are providing. Yet their whole business is shaped on motivating the consumer to divulge their personal information for use by companies to sell products, as well as to connect with others in the cyber realm. Some have come to realize the awkwardness and falsity of the social networking schemes, such as the article mentioning the aunt commenting on a party photo or a boss seeing you were somewhere other than sick at home (By the way, just a rule of thumb; don’t add your boss to your facebook account!). I have a friend who removed himself from facebook entirely, and while missing out on the instant connectivity to acquaintances and friends, seems blessedly relieved from having to deal with the social faux pas that cyber networking brings. It would be a stretch, however, to say that these creepy apps are strikingly dangerous because they aren’t if they are used responsibly. Though human nature doesn’t hold much hope for rational decision making, the trade-off of personal info to apps, creators, and the world is inevitable. Awareness by the companies, and awareness by the user will be of paramount importance, yet it will likely take some time for clear lines to be drawn in the sand.

  12. aaron

    Maybe people these days are increasingly creepy because they spend too much of their life on technology and do not know how to act contingent on social interactions and situations. I strongly agree that apps are a tool that creepy people use to be creepier. I don’t know about you, but i have friends that accept anyone who adds them on Facebook. so I would never want friends of a friend to know where i am or what i was doing. i never understood why some people place all their information of where they are, all over Facebook. Dumb, that’s what I think of it. However, location communication could be useful for many reasons, and i have no problem with the technology. i do however have a problem with the degree of publicity it can receive from people you don’t want it to be received by. Theft and privacy are a huge concern. Where I come from, noting is locked up. As soon as my Friends of my friends heard I was out of town(just got back at this time) through the grape vine, I caught them stealing gas from the farm. If they had instant access to that information, I would not have caught them.

  13. Mike

    I actually used foursquare for a few months and enjoyed it. When I lived in a small town without much to do it was a fast and effective way of getting more people involved, such as 4 people checking into the basketball court and suddenly you have 10 more people roll up without needing to get a hold of each individually. The aspect of a leader board gave an element of fun and encouraged people to share their location and go visit new places or get out of the house more. I started doing far more activities with friends than I used to and had a lot of fun with it. On the downside I found that checking into my house gave me an easy mayorship but at the same time I was now on the map and people could know if I wasn’t at home. This could potentially be an issue with theft but it didn’t affect me in a small town. It wasn’t until moving back to the city where I decided to not use Foursquare anymore as it became a little more serious the issue of privacy. Overall, I enjoyed Foursquare when a lot of my friends and extended friend group used it but as people started thinking of checking in as a nuisance then it started to lose its flair. I still have the app on my phone but it is not used at all.

  14. Morgan

    Apps like Foursquare can be a lot of fun because it’s a fun way to show who you’re with and what you’re doing. It can be anywhere from earning bragging rights for going to a sold out concert or something as mundane as catching the train to work. Foursquare even makes note of how many times you have signed into a certain area, and will compare that data to other users. If you sign into a place more than another user, you are crowned “King” of that place, and I think Pokemon cards have taught us that people like collecting things.

    Another positive aspect is finding out that a friend is also in the same place, giving the two people an opportunity to meet up. However, this also has its drawbacks. You might be trying to avoid that particular friend that day, or maybe you lied about having other plans and now everyone knows you’re hanging out with X at Y place. Apps such as Foursquare are tools that could be easily utilized by stalkers, overbearing parents, suspicious bosses, and robbers. If you and your roommates have signed into a location halfway across the city, it means your house is a prime target to be broken in to.

    I think the risks outweigh the positives and I wouldn’t use location apps even if I did have a smartphone. If I want to meet up with someone, I’ll make plans prior to the event or text them while I’m there.

  15. Jarrett

    I agree with some of the people above that apps and social media are downright creepy. I feel that the world is becoming so much more complex in an age that is trying to make things simpler. As well, i think it is terrifying that the apps that are coming out are able to track people and use it to creep on other people. I feel that these apps blur the line from what is acceptable and what is not acceptable for some people. In an age where people are meeting others over the internet, and where cyber crime grows at astonishing rates, i do not understand why people still choose to use apps and social media so frequently, with updates and information that would be considered foolish to tell strangers. As well, on sites such as facebook, people add others who the barely know, or simply do not know. As a person who has facebook, i have the most amount of privacy possible, never check in places, and never reveal information that people could use to hurt me or commit offences against me. As well, i will delete my facebook when i leave school as i use it for meetings and such.

  16. BK

    As pretty well everyone has already mentioned, being able to share who you are with and what you’re doing can be fun. It can be used to brag about something cool you are doing, or let people know to come join you. The downside to this is that it has a bit of a big brother effect. Everyone knows where you are, and what you’re doing. Another down side is that it lets everyone know when you aren’t home, including theives. This past summer, while working up in Wetaskawin, there were a string of robberies in certain neighborhoods. The authorities couldn’t figure out how the criminals managed to always break in during afternoon times, and plan it so that they knew when people weren’t home. It seemed a little more complex than watching for when a car left. They concluded that too many people were posting information on facebook about when they were in Edmonton, or gone for the afternoon. This allowed for theives to pinpoint exact times to break in, with no danger of being caught.

  17. LW

    The fact of apps becoming increasingly more and more intrusive and divulging information such birth dates interesting facts and favorite places to go and eat. The fact that creepy individuals can walk into a bar and immediately pick up another individuals private information and learn where they have gone and their stats is beyond intrusive. That being said everyone is fully aware that their information is going to be shared with others people, as to the initial warning and disclaimers which illustrates the use of the subscribers private information in order to use push marketing to attack and target vulnerable customers as to the purchase of their new and expensive products. I believe that consumers and corporations sign a mutual contract that illustrates the ability for these corporations to use and disclose private information in order to suit their needs and desires as to marketing and creating new products to suit their needs. This agreement is beneficial for both the consumer and corporation in that corporations receive private information, which leads to new products which then in turns provides consumers. An example of this happening is apple. Apple users surveys and the frequency of use location services in order to create better iphone to suit customer needs.

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