5 Tips to Retain Privacy on Foursquare

It's hardly practical to believe there are "right" and "wrong" ways to employ social networking services like Twitter or Facebook. However, there are "smart" and/or "safe" methods of use, especially for location-based services (LBS) that identify your whereabouts at a given time, like popular social network/LBS Foursquare.

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, earn points and nab "Mayor" titles for favorite establishments.

Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley says the service already has 2.6 million users and is adding additional "Foursquarers" faster than ever before. With so many new users joining the fray each day I thought I'd share a handful of Foursquare privacy tips to help you understand the risks associated with using the service.

Keep moving for specifics; chances are you'll be glad you did when you learn you've avoided an awkward encounter with an old ex or annoying "Friend-of-a-Friend."

(For more Foursquare tips and best practices, read "Foursquare Makes It Harder to Unlock Badges" and "How to Unlock Secret Foursquare Badges and Reduce Privacy Risks".)

"Off-the-Grid" Check-Ins

You can check-in to any Foursquare venue and still collect points/etc. without ever showing your specific location to Foursquare friends--or anyone else. These "off-the-grid" check-ins are great for when you want to gain Foursquare points or increase your number of check-ins at a given venue, but don't want to be surprised by anyone you know dropping in.

To check in off-the-grid, simply use a Foursquare mobile application--available for BlackBerry, iPhone and Android on Foursquare.com--locate the venue you wish to check-in to, select it for check-in and then either choose "No" or unselect the check-box next to "Tell my friends."

Your location and check-in information will then be displayed to Foursquare friends only as "Off the grid."

Delete Mayorships at Venues You Frequent

You may constantly check in to a venue or establishment, but for whatever reason, you don't want to be a "Mayor," since the title can be seen by anyone who views that venue on Foursquare.com--not just your friends.

This is an easy problem to solve. First, you can visit Foursquare.com, log in to your account and then click on the Settings tab in the top-right corner of your Web browser. On the following page, you should see a section labeled Your Privacy Profile. In that section, you can uncheck the box next to "Participate in Foursquare mayorships." This will disable your ability to gain mayor titles at Foursquare venues, and it also deletes any mayorships you may have already earned.

Secondly, you can delete individual mayorships by visiting your Foursquare "Me" profile page, locating your list of current mayorships and then clicking the "X"-mark to the right of the mayor listing. You can delete as many or as few of your Foursquare mayorships as you wish in this fashion, and other Foursquare users will no longer be able to tell you visit those specific venues often.

Hide Your Foursquare Contact Information

On the same Foursquare Settings page, you can hide the e-mail address and phone number associated with your account from friends, as well as your Facebook and/or Twitter profiles from all Foursquare users, assuming you've connected them.

Under the "Let my friends see my&" section, ensure that the boxes next to "Phone number" and "E-Mail address" are unchecked. If they are checked, all of your Foursquare friends can access the information, but it will still be publicly blocked.

In the next section, labeled "Let everyone see the links to," you should uncheck the box next to my "Twitter profile and Facebook profiles." This will block other Foursquare users from seeing your connected Facebook or Twitter pages.

Remove Your Name from Venues' "Who's Here" Lists

After you check in to a Foursquare venue, the service includes your name by default on that venue's "Who's Here" list, until you check in somewhere else. That means that anyone who views the venue via mobile app or checks in along with you can see that you're there or were recently--not only your Foursquare friends, but all Foursquare users.

If you'd rather not let any ol' Foursquare user see when you're checked in to a specific venue, again visit the Foursquare Settings page and under Your Privacy Profile uncheck the box next to "Show me in the 'Who's here' list in the mobile app'.

If you connected your Facebook and/or Twitter account to Foursquare, you may also want to uncheck the "Include me in my friends' status updates to Twitter and Facebook when I'm in checked into the same place as they are' option.

Check in While Leaving a Venue to Avoid Unwanted Visitors

One easy way to avoid visits from folks you'd rather not see is to simply check in to venues while on your way out. You'll want to make sure you're still close enough to your venue of choice after leaving when you check in, or else you risk triggering Foursquare's dreaded "cheating filter." But it's easy to get into the habit of checking in after you've spent time at a location instead of before.

Al Sacco covers Mobile and Wireless for CIO.com. Follow Al on Twitter @ASacco. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Al at ASacco@CIO.com.

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