Foursquare and Swarm: When Good Apps Turn Bad

Throughout the modern App era, Foursquare is the App that I have continuously used more than any other. Before I had a Twitter App and long before I had a Facebook App, Foursquare was my favorite.

I frequently travel for work.  In the early days,  I checked in on Foursquare so my wife would know where I was.  She still to this day gets nervous if she doesn’t hear from me for more than a day. During a recent two-week trip,  there were three days where, other than my hosts, nobody in the world, myself included, knew where I was in within Japan.   There is something nice about being able to push a button and log a location.

Had forgotten that I had been in this Starbucks Until This Reminder
Had forgotten that I had been in this Starbucks Until This Reminder

I liked having Foursquare track which airports, train stations and even Chinese Starbucks I have been to.  I liked knowing which of my tweeps had previously checked in at the place I was standing.  I also liked seeing when people checked in at places like Yankee Stadium, The Coliseum on Long Island, Jamaica Train Station, a mall in Dubai, Heathrow Airport, or even LAX.  The fact that Foursquare was one of the few early apps based out of my home state New York also made it special to me.

I have been known to leave Easter Egg Tips for specific friends at airports. I had one friend at a different company who found a tip with his name in it almost 3 years after I left it.  I was fat dumb and happy with Foursquare for the longest time,


There was that first incident, where the wife of President of Foursquare snuck into the Boston Marathon using a fake bib.   Several of my runner/Foursquare friends dropped the app after that event.  I really didn’t want to give  up my favorite app over that incident, but I thought about it.

THEN……. in the recent weeks, Foursquare migrated the check-in features to a new spinoff app called Swarm.  So now I have one app, Swarm with all the check-in and friend following features of the legacy Foursquare program and today, the legacy Foursquare program transmogrified into something akin to Yelp.  I was disgruntled but begrudgingly accepting of these updates.  The whole thing felt very “New Coke“, circa, 1985.


In the past few days, one of my Tweeps started checking in at sites around Southern California on Swarm.   They were down in the area on vacation with their family.  I noticed that yesterday they checked in down in Santa Monica and Hermosa Beach.   Today I noticed that Swarm was reporting them as last seen in Huntington Beach, then in Costa Mesa and Anaheim.  What was odd to me was that it was updating her location, but this person wasn’t checking in.  Then I was shocked to realize what was happening, IT WAS BROADCASTING THEIR LOCATION WITHOUT THEM HAVING CHECKED IN!

When Apps Tell Where You Are
When Apps Tell Where You Are

It really took me a while for all the piece for come together for me (granted, I wasn’t thinking too hard about it in the moment), but the app was broadcasting to their friends (and who knows who else)  where they were as they made their way from the Beach Cities up the freeway and on their way home.   I checked my own version of Swarm and sure enough, there was a checkbox I had to hit to stop broadcasting my location to the world.

My preferred Privacy Options for Swarm
My preferred Privacy Options for Swarm


I feel stupid.  Normally, if I were to download a new app, I would be careful to check what information it has permission to and what it is allowed to broadcast.   Because this app came from a company that I trusted for so very long, I let my guard down.    With that violation of my trust, I deleted the legacy Foursquare App off my phones.   I still have Swarm, but it’s on a really short leash.

We Won’t Be Fooled Again!!!


I found this parody of the whole Swarm/Foursquare thing on YouTube.  Enjoy


Foursquare and Swarm: When Good Apps Turn Bad

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