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Foursquare to Display Full Names In Addition to Other Privacy Changes

foursquare profileFoursquare is one of those unique applications that I thought would fade away before the dawning of 2013. Not so. They emailed everyone they know yesterday to say that they’re celebrating their 3,000,000,000th check-in. And in return for all this user loyalty, they’re loosening up their terms of service – which they say is no big deal at all.

The update, which will go into effect on January 28, 2013, has two, very big changes.

Here’s how they explain it in the “Privacy 101” document.

We will now display your full name. Currently, Foursquare sometimes shows your full name and sometimes shows your first name and last initial (“John Smith” vs. “John S.”). For instance, if you search for a friend in Foursquare, we show their full name in the results, but when you click through to their profile page you don’t see their last name. In the original versions of Foursquare, these distinctions made sense. But we get emails every day saying that it’s now confusing. So, with this change, full names are going to be public. As always, you can alter your ‘full name’ on Foursquare at https://foursquare.com/settings.

This move to full and legal names is one we’re seeing all over the web. Facebook has insisted on it since the beginning and recently, YouTube began urging people to do the same. On the upside, it’s making social media more responsible. Instead of hiding behind a phony name, folks will have to own up to what they choose to post. On the downside, there’s something about using a full name that bothers. Lack of privacy, lack of fun — can’t put my finger on it but I like being able to choose when and where I use my full name.

The next change goes to marketing:

A business on Foursquare will be able to see more of their recent customers. Currently, a business using Foursquare (like your corner coffee shop) can see the customers who have checked in in the last three hours (in addition to the most recent and their most loyal visitors). This is great for helping store owners identify their customers and give them more personal service or offers. But a lot of businesses only have time to log in at the end of the day to look at it. So, with this change, we’re going to be showing them more of those recent check-ins, instead of just three hours worth. As always, if you’d prefer not to permit businesses to see when you check into their locations going forward, you can uncheck the box under ‘Location Information’ at https://foursquare.com/settings/privacy.

This is a great upgrade for businesses. With this information, you can reward loyal users with special perks, thus encouraging them to be even more loyal. These people could also be important influencers, spreading the good word about your business to their friends.

If you stretch, the downside here could be an invasion of privacy, but it would take a hard shove to get there in my mind. If you’re checking in to a location, you obviously don’t mind telling people you’re visiting that establishment. And, as Foursquare puts it, identifying loyal customers through the app is no different than recognizing them when they walk in for coffee everyday at 9:00.

Continuing on, Foursquare would like to make one thing perfectly clear:

Foursquare can tell you who is at a location (we call this ‘Here Now’), but we make the visibility match what happens in the real world:    You always can see where your friends are if they’ve checked in, just like if they’d texted you to let you know.

The only difference is, if I text someone, it’s a deliberate act. After a year on Foursquare, I may not remember who I’ve friended. I probably don’t want the old boyfriend knowing that I’m at a bar with the new boyfriend. . . .

We also give you a glimpse into which other Foursquare users are currently checked in at nearby locations. Since we realize some folks may not want to appear on this “Here Now” list, you can opt out of this feature on your account settings.

Confession time: I’m not much of a social butterfly. You’re shocked, I know. So, to me, all of this checking in and seeing who else checked in is kind of silly. Here’s a tip. Instead of going to a club and burying your face in your phone, try looking up. Surprise! Your best friend has been texting you from two feet away the whole time.

What do you think of Foursquare’s new privacy policies? Crossing the line or no big deal?