Foursqaure 'Cheater Code' Vexes Legit Users

If you're a Foursquare user who's been getting some strange "check-in errors" during the past few days, listen up: The folks behind the location-based social-networking service have instituted some new changes for the Foursquare check-in system, and those modifications could be the culprit.

Foursquare "Cheater Code" Check-In Error Message

Foursquare is the latest social-networking-craze, in which users "check-in" to the various places they frequent, and attempt to gain more check-ins than friends and other Foursquare users to secure badges and "Mayor" titles for favorite establishments.

This week, the company quietly introduced some new "cheater code" to make it more difficult to check-in to Foursquare venues and claim Mayorships or other rewards when you're not actually there. In other words, Foursquare is now using your smartphone's GPS—where available—to ensure you're within a certain distance of the venue you're checking into.

Avid Foursquare users have been complaining about the cheating-issue for months, practically since the service was initially launched. And the company needed to do something, lest it risk losing legitimate users due to frustrations related to the cheating.

The problem? Many legitimate Foursquare users, myself included, have been triggering the cheater code left and right, even though we're exactly where we say we are when checking in. And that's just as frustrating as having to deal with the cheaters, since we're unable to collect points or other credit even though we're playing by the rules.

These location-problems could be because of faulty GPS within some of our mobile devices—though I happen to know my GPS is working just fine. It could be because whoever "created" the venue on Foursquare typed in an inaccurate address. Or it may have to do with the way Foursquare's system initially "pin-pointed" the location on Google Maps. It also seems to be worse at "large" venues, like shopping malls, where one entrance could be quite far away from the entrance or location at which the venue was originally created.

Regardless, the result is still the same: While Foursquare's intentions are certainly right on target and I commend the company for that, its resolution isn't exactly working as well as I might have hoped.

I first noticed the new "cheater code" on Tuesday, when I tried to check to my office. I fired up my Foursquare for BlackBerry application as I walked through the building's front doors, as I always do. And though Foursquare registered my check-in, it also served up the new error-message (See above image for more detail):

"Your phone thinks you're a little far from [Venue], so no points or badges for this check-in. Sorry."

I was the first one to check-in at my office, and I created the new location in exactly the same place that I always check-in—on the way through the office's front doors. But after reading Foursquare's explanation of the new cheat-code changes, I logged into my account via PC and tried to locate my office's exact location on the provided map. Sure enough, the "pin" representing the office's specific location was a bit off. I moved it into place—you can only move venue-location pins if you created a specific venue. And voila. I was able to check-in to my office today without any location-issues.

That's all fine and good...but it really doesn't solve the problem for all legitimate users. Since the new changes went into effect, I've received these cheat-error messages for about 30 percent of all my check-ins. And since I didn't create most of venues I check into, I'm unable to resolve the problem in the same way that I did for my office.

From a blog post on Foursquare.com:

[W]e’re never going to NOT let you check-in - you can check-in wherever you want, whenever you want - the idea is simply to not award points, Mayorships, badges or venue specials if it looks like you didn’t really earn them.

So you can still check-in from wherever you may be, you just won't get "credit" for it, beyond a listing in your Foursquare history.

Foursquare says it's aware of the problem, and it's working on ways to "fix" it. For instance, the company has made an online complaint form available for frustrated Foursquare users to log their complaints about erroneous check-in-errors. But honestly, I'm not really expecting a response to my complaints, since I can only imagine how many folks will start logging errors after reading a post like this one.

Again, I think Foursquare is on the right track by trying to stop cheaters from falsely checking into venues to gain unearned points and Mayorships. It's just too bad that the company's stop-gap solution is also negatively affecting legitimate users.

More information on Foursquare's new cheater code can be found on the company's website.

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