Though it’s still a genre arguably in its infancy, that hasn’t stopped the abundance of location-based social apps currently flooding onto iPhone from stealing the attention of the mainstream media.
These social networks combine visiting real-life venues with the treasure-hunt style gameplay seen in 1000: Find ‘Em All. Users are encouraged to “check-in” when they visit cafes, bars, or other locations to pick up points or even claim in-game ownership of the establishment itself. It’s a style of gameplay that has much currency with the casual game-loving Facebook generation.
The genre’s growth is not without its pitfalls, however. The internet has been awash with stories regarding the apparent privacy concerns of such iPhone apps. Foursquare dominated the headlines following the launch of Dutch website PleaseRobMe.com.
The site collates Foursquare data posted on Twitter accounts to highlight just who is and who isn’t currently in their home. The idea isn’t to encourage burglary, but rather highlight just how easy it is for gamers to lose track of their information, publishing their private movements for all to see.
‘The point we’re getting at is that not long ago it was questionable to share your full name on the internet. We’ve gone past that point by 1,000 miles,” site developer Boy Van Amstel told the BBC.
“Details posted online are available for the world to see; you wouldn’t hang a sign on your door saying you’re out, so why would you post it online?”
However, what much of the press has failed to grasp is the fact that the supposed security loophole isn’t due to Foursquare itself, but rather players forwarding their actions to less secure social networks like Facebook or Twitter.
Foursquare hands you complete control over any friend connections, meaning you know just who can and cannot see your updates. However, the network also allows for updates to be posted on Twitter. Considering most Twitter accounts are open, this basically means anyone who follows you could track your movements. The posts even show up in Google search results.
However, Foursquare itself believes its users are adult enough to realize the potential dangers. Foursquare has issued a comment on privacy concerns on their blog in response.
‘True, a large number of Foursquare users send their check-ins to Twitter and/or Facebook, and therefore make their location available to an audience much larger than just their Foursquare friends,’ the company said on its work blog.
“The benefits are obvious, though it is interesting to see people talking about the potential downsides.”
With the rise of location-based gameplay set to continue– Foursquare currently challenged by rivals MyTown, Yelp, PlacePop and Gowalla, to name but a few– it’s unlikely these privacy issues will fade into the background anytime soon.