The rapid rise of Foursquare and the trumpeted launch of Facebook Places have led, inevitably, to backlash against the "Orwellian" location-tracking applications. Critics are piggy-backing on a report finding that only one percent of Americans use location-based services weekly. Yet while it's true that only four percent of Americans have ever even tried these location apps, the rapid rise of Foursquare (which just surpassed three million users) and the aggressive promotion of these apps by reigning Web titans suggest they won't fade away anytime soon. Tech pundits weigh in on whether the fad can catch on beyond tech-savvy urbanites.
Most People (Other Than Young, Adept Urbanites) Decline Being Located proclaim New York Times contributors Claire Cain Miller and Jenna Wortham. They use the Forrester study as an impetus to seek out individuals who resist the location applications. People who "aren't bar hoppers" need other, more compelling reasons to check in, like Shopkick which offers coupons to consumers when they enter a Best Buy or a Macy's. Although numerous venture capitalists have invested nearly $115 million into such applications, they have yet to take off among nearly anyone not in the 19-35 age range.
'I Don't Want You To Know Where I Am' broadcasts Greg Sterling at Screenwerk, who nevertheless disagrees with the dismissive slant of The New York Times article. "Like the Forrester study, a quick reading of the article fuels the impression that location on mobile devices isn’t that big a deal after all. That would be an incorrect conclusion however. Location and locally relevant content is in huge demand on mobile phones," he explains. There is a difference between asking a user about a "abstract" idea in survey (in which people might oppose location applications) and a "concrete situation" (presumably there are those who use location-services but are still uncomfortable about privacy).
It's Just One Big Tool to Cyber-Stalk With concludes Sarah Perez at Read Write Web, who isn't quite sure that was the intention of developer Matt Hodan when he helped launch the app. While Places in particular comes with a "blizzard" of privacy settings, Facebook has made them confusing and turned off by default. "The company understands that the majority of its user base neither knows nor cares about how each new feature impacts their privacy,"argues Perez. "For example, even when the Facebook privacy backlash was underway earlier this year, the service continued its unparalleled growth."
Foursquare Is Still Growing Rapidly reports Leena Rao at TechCrunch, countering the notion that the mainstream has yet to embrace location apps. After little more than a year of existence the social-network has passed the three million user mark, and doesn't appear to be slowing even in the face of the newly-launched Places. "But Foursquare’s co-founder Dennis Crowley reported that Foursquare had its biggest day of signups following Facebook’s announcement. And Crowley told the LA Times recently that the startup is growing at about 180,000 users every 10 days."
The Biggest Challenge "lies in convincing users that the benefits of sharing their whereabouts outweigh the loss of privacy, or any potential sticky situations that may ensue," notes Ben Patterson at Yahoo! News, who thoroughly enjoyed the geeky exercise of posting his location using Places. He then observes nostalgically that the applications may be best suited to "free-wheeling" twenty-somethings who want to gather at the same nightlife locales. "Nowadays, though," writes the presumably older Patterson. "I’m not so anxious to tell everyone exactly where I am at any given time."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.