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Foursquare constantly tracking users' locations (valverde.me)
79 points by valverde 1260 days ago | hide | past | web | 46 comments | favorite

The second portion of the post which explains how to capture traffic leaving your device is more informative and probably should have been the main thesis rather than focusing on Foursquare's non-surprising use of constant geo location updates.

Thank you for the feedback. That was my original intention, but seeing the constant location updates from Foursquare while writing the article surprised me (admittedly not too much).

While recently digging into CoreLocation's CLLocationManager recently I also discovered that any app which is given location privileges can be saving your location every 10 min in the background. It was a surprise to me too.

This, along with the M7 motion co-processor in the new iPhone 5S, and Apple's pretty substantial investment in iBeacons, tells me that Apple sees the future of the iOS ecosystem as a series of experience-enhancing physically-aware ambient apps.

(The kind of apps that require a good notification center - like the one in iOS7 - cuz they're spewing so many little bits of suggestions at you.)

I suspect Apple will tread carefully in these waters, but initial signs are worrisome. Let's hope that they can figure out the personal analytics thing and work in some privacy with it too. They're not an ad company, so it's possible. :)

How did you get the Proxy Settings screen ? Is that a separate app that you need to install ?

Tap and hold your Wi-Fi network, then select "Modify network". The proxy options are under the advanced options.

Neat, thanks for the tip.

It was enabled for me by default, but the iOS location icon is always displayed on the Springboard when it's being used.

Also, Foursquare will constantly send you notifications saying "It looks like you're near Foobar, would you like to check in?". They make it very, very obvious that they're tracking your location.

It was a quick matter of going into preferences and looking to see what applications used location services recently to fix things up. The biggest offenders were Foursquare and the Google app. I ended up turning Google off completely, and disabled Foursquare except for when I have the app open. Problem solved.

I could see the notifications of locations helpful if it was "trained" (Netflix learning algo style) after a time, but the time to "train" the learning/notifications wouldn't be worth the annoyance of the high-frequency of popups.

I wonder if they have tried frequency intervals/usage/checkins.

Even Netflix (anecdote) took perhaps a year or more until recommendations "fit" my profile.

Have you seen noticeable battery life improvements?

No. However, this is a newer iPhone 5 and I plug it in every night -- so I really don't pay attention to the battery.

Older models, or not plugging it in every night, might show something different.

Is this not the entire point of Foursquare?

Seems like you're commenting based only on the title. Here's the first sentence of the article:

"It might sound weird to accuse Foursquare of collecting location data since that is the whole point of the service, but Foursquare is overstepping its bounds by constantly keeping track of their users' every move (and more) — even if they never open the app."

(I think) that this is an opt-in feature that came out a few months ago, so that 4sq could push suggestions to you about where you are, or notify you of nearby friends. At least, I remember being asked if I wanted this feature.

Hard to blame Foursquare which you need to install while Google itself is doing it on Android phones to track when Android phones enter stores.



"This feature turns on when you opt in to Google now. "

Opt in, not opt out.

Why stop there? Nomi tracks any smartphone user who enters a physical store, without their consent[0]: http://www.getnomi.com/

[0] Storeowners install the device, and customers have to opt-out: http://nomi.com/privacy/

Still not surprised. This is a textbook example of why Apple originally refused to allow apps to run in the background- so now that Apple finally caved and apps can background, it was just a matter of time before exactly this sort of thing came up.

That is not the reason Apple didn't provide true background application support in iOS 2 & 3. It was a battery driven initiative by designing the push notification system over letting apps manage their own background runloop.

Plus iOS 5 introduced background support with location that did keep the GPS active and did drain the battery. Foursquare enabled it as a feature called "Radar" that was short lived due to the drain.

Yeah I thought the same thing. FourSquare is a location-based social network and game. The entire thing is built on knowing your location.

Nah. Check-ins only seems to be the point. They don't need to constantly track my location.

Not all users. I primarily use Foursquare for tracking where I've been, not for discovery. If I try to remember that great place I ate at last time I was in Boston I can search my history. Invasive continuous tracking adds no value for me.

Another way to achieve the same thing might be to take pictures at the locations you want to remember. The geo-tagging can help you locate where the pic was taken (though you'd probably need a pic of the name of the place for this to work well).

I wish there was an OS option that does the equivalent of "Only permit location based service calls when app is open and active"

I want the option of enabling Yelp only when I use Yelp etc.

I beleive that in iOS 7 you could disable Background App Refresh for apps like Foursquare and Yelp.

This is true, and Foursquare does use Background Refresh, but I don't believe that encompasses background location updates, so changing the setting to disable them in Foursquare is still necessary.

A company focused on enabling users to report their own locations... knows the locations of their users.

I am not surprised.

A service known for letting you announce your location ... now knows your location even when you haven't announced it.

BTW here is a nice project I came across that should do the same thing as Fiddler, but it's for Linux rather than Windows:


To decrypt HTTPS you follow the same procedure of installing a root certificate on your phone.

There is also burp (http://portswigger.net/burp/) that is distributed as a JAR.

Thanks! I added that to the article.

Because of this I assume companies will start encrypting their JSON to make it impossible to see what is going through their application. A lot of lawsuits can start from this kind of exploring.

Making it impossible is impossible. They might make it more difficult.

On iOS this isn't necessarily true under certain constraints.

They can make it impossible given the device is not jailbroken. Sometimes there are versions of iOS that are un-jailbreakable. If you are not Apple, it could very well be impossible to figure out what an app is sending to a remote service if it gets its cryptography right.

Edit: thinking about it, although it may be impossible to MITM the connection, presumably one can inspect the compiled application to determine what it would send, so I think I was wrong about this

Apple doesn't have the best track record around auditing software for obfuscated functionality. The OS is built around the assumption that an app can misbehave without risking the user's resources. Of course, jailbreaking disproves this.

The WiFi scan data is interesting. I guess Google maps cars have made it ok for corporations to War Drive at massive scale. But using your users devices to do it for you is interesting.

FWIW, in the IOS version of the app, the offending check box appears to be disabled by default.

(I certainly didn't disable it, so I can only assume that's the state from install).

Interesting. I created a test account just to be sure I hadn't accidentally opted in before and, sure enough, it was enabled.

Same situation here. Wasn't enabled at all, and I've certainly not changed the settings in the past.

I'm pretty sure there are a lot of apps that have similar behavior. I know at one time Twitter and Facebook did something similar.

Does Facebook still do that? Do you remember where you read that it did at one time?

I had Facebook installed while investigating for this article, and could not identify a similar behavior.

Google, on the other hand, did the exact same thing, but I remember explicitly agreeing to that.

valverde, my startup www.frequento.com.br/parceiros works on a related topic, would love to talk to you about it.

I just added you on LinkedIn (Rodrigo Pontes), or email me.

I'm on an iPhone 5S and it significantly diminishes my working battery life unless I manually close the app.

Does this also work if the user has signed out of Foursquare? (on Android?)

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