When most privacy advocates get upset about services like Foursquare and Facebook, it’s not necessarily because they are grumpy gronards about social networks. What they are specifically concerned with is that Foursquare and Facebook’s privacy settings default to sharing pretty much everything, and that these social networks want to keep that fact as obfuscated as possible so that they can continue to sell the information about you that they collect. Your personal information — your life — is their product. As we pointed out earlier today, when you sign up with Foursquare, it will automatically default to sharing your name, your sex and your last location with anyone using their API. If you have taken a profile picture — necessary to do things like become mayor of a location in Foursquare, and therefore a big part of using the app to begin with — it will share that as well, so strangers can identify you by sight. If you have linked your Foursquare account to your Facebook account, that is shared publicly as well. In fact, all of Foursquare’s privacy options are opt-out, not opt-in.
This irks me so much. There are at least three outright lies in this passage. I set up a new Foursquare account yesterday to double check. Foursquare doesn’t default to “sharing pretty much everything.” They do not obfuscare what they do in any way. Foursquare doesn’t even make you give a gender. You have to manually choose one, and “I’d rather not say” is an option. It does NOT push anything to the public on Twitter or Facebook unless you explicityly choose to. You don’t have to link your Facebook or Twitter accounts at all, and if you do, it defaults to NOT posting anything there. You have to explicitly opt in. With every. single. post.
Foursquare does default to showing your anonymized first name only when someone looks at a venue. You don’t have to post a photo, and you can post one that isn’t of you. They don’t care. And next to every privacy option is a little box that you can click on and see a full list of what is default and what that means. A quick check of that page shows clearly that it doesn’t default at all towards the public sharing of information or “pretty much everything.”
Both pages are a model of clarity and simplicity. I challenge anyone to make a reasonable recommendation how they could be more clear.