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Foursquare survived the pandemic. But will it survive Apple?

Foursquare survived the pandemic. But will it survive Apple?

Good morning! This Monday, the future of Foursquare might be a little tricky, an in-person Mobile World Congress starts today, aliens probably most likely definitely exist, Amazon bought Wickr, and Microsoft can't stop, won't stop getting hacked.

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The Big Story

Long live Foursquare

From the early days of the check-in to its evolution into one of the leading location data vendors in the industry, Foursquare's business has always sort of depended on people going places. And for a while — say, most of human history — it seemed like a fairly safe assumption that people, generally speaking, would go places. Then COVID-19 hit. Places closed and people stayed in, creating what might have been a crisis for a company like Foursquare.

But the pandemic actually made location data more essential for both businesses and governments looking to understand how people were and weren't moving around the world, argues Gary Little, who took over as the company's CEO late last year. When COVID started, Foursquare was able to provide aggregate-level data to municipalities and governments to help them understand population density in different areas.

  • "For a bunch of our customers with a large-scale, physical footprint, whether that's in dining, malls and shopping, or others, just understanding their customer foot traffic and how it changed allowed them to make decisions. Where do we open? When do we open? How do we open and so forth?" Little said.

Foursquare has a bird's-eye view of human traffic patterns, whichhas given the company some early insights into other key markets like commercial real estate in big cities. For example, Little said, the great exodus from city centers has been somewhat overstated.

  • "The mass migrations that have been written about aren't necessarily holding as much as people thought," he said. "Not as many people moved as suspected, and there are some early signs that there may be movement back to certain places."
  • One area of location tracking the company never got into, though, was contact tracing. Little said the privacy risks were too high, and Foursquare's resources were too constrained. "We wouldn't have been able to build a solution that protected what we care about quite a lot, which is very specific user data," he said. "It was really more about our constraints with regard to what we can build and when, and how, as opposed to a macro concern that that couldn't be done in a privacy-forward way."

The only reason Foursquare can gather these insights in the first place is because it's tracking the every move of users who have location settings turned on. As the world increasingly moves away from tracking, collecting and synthesizing this kind of location data is only going to get trickier. Apple, for one, is now forcing apps to ask people before tracking them, and the vast majority are opting out. That's already dramatically reduced the amount of data Foursquare can collect from its users.

  • Little said Foursquare's seeing north of 20% opt-in rates for tracking among its users, but he insists he sees these privacy-protective measures as welcome changes.
  • "It's clearly limited the data available," he said. "But again, we've always believed that that's the right mechanism — that users should have a choice when they're considering how their data is used."

Still, in a world in which the majority of people are asking apps not to track what they do on their phones, it's hard to imagine that people are going to continue putting up with companies tracking their physical locations and then sharing that information, even in an aggregate manner, as Foursquare does. There are "tectonic" shifts coming to the industry, Little acknowledged, but he said the companies that survive them will be the ones that provide real value to the end user.

  • "Whether you're typing in a location that you want Uber to pick you up at or whether you're geotagging a tweet in Twitter or whether you're trying to find friends via the geo-filtering in Snap — that's all software that we enable on behalf of those platforms and have always believed that the user should opt in to those experiences versus some of what we've seen historically, which is tracking locations in a flashlight app, which is something that we don't think has user value," Little said.

— Issie Laposwky (email | twitter)

A version of this story appeared on today. Read it here.


Company culture has changed overnight. With a mass shift to home offices, many businesses are asking: What does our future look like when people can work from anywhere? In this first-ever roundtable with Trello's leadership team, learn how Trello has scaled a successful hybrid work model over the past decade.

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People Are Talking

Google eventually won over critics of its forthcoming San Jose campus, but Silicon Valley Synergy's Bob Staedler said Google's early moves rubbed him the wrong way:

  • "The NDA was just such a bad look for the project. So, it just started off badly."

Building a health tech giant isn't like building every other tech company, Doximity CEO Jeff Tangney said:

  • "The reality of health care and our clients, who are very staid institutions, a lot of nonprofits that have been around for 100 years, is that even if you lean in and hire tons of sales and marketing people, they're not going to let you grow."

On Protocol | Fintech: Dogecoin proves the crypto market is crazy, Ripple General Counsel Stuart Alderoty said:

  • "How did we get through the looking glass where Coinbase is comfortable listing dogecoin, but somehow they're not comfortable listing XRP, the third-largest digital asset by market volume that's been in existence for eight years that's traded globally, because of the SEC suit? This is the regulatory morass we're in."


Mobile World Congress starts today. It's one of the biggest in-person conferences in a long time, though a number of big players have pulled out. Still, it's a big show for all things mobile.

Shopify Unite is tomorrow, where we'll get an update on how Shopify is doing and what it's up to in the next year.

Branson to space? Virgin Galactic got FAA approval to start sending customers into space, which means Richard himself could theoretically head to orbit sooner rather than later. Maybe even over July Fourth.

In Other News

  • Amazon bought Wickr, the secure messaging app.It'll be part of AWS, and sounds as though it will be separate from Chime. Though Wickr may have been Amazon's second choice; it considered a bid on Signal as well, Insider reported.
  • Today is Elon Musk's 50th birthday, which his mother celebrated the only correct way: by posting baby pictures on Twitter. Happy Birthday, Elon!
  • Binance is in trouble in the U.K. Britain's financial regulator said it lacked the "authorization, registration or license to conduct regulated activity" in the country. Meanwhile, Robinhood's IPO is reportedly delayed due to regulatory scrutiny of its crypto business.
  • Would you share the road with a robot? That's what cyclists in Austin are trying to decide, as pizza delivery bots hit the road in the city. Like with scooters, the question is: Where do they go?
  • Microsoft was hacked again. The attack came from Nobelium, the group associated with the Russian government, and while it was "mostly unsuccessful," Microsoft did acknowledge three compromised entities.
  • TikTok is a China-controlled app. That's what insiders told CNBC, anyway, along with the fact that ByteDance has access to American user data and is deeply involved in every part of the company.
  • Have you read the Pentagon UFO report yet? The short version: It's not definitely aliens, but it's not definitely not aliens. So of course everyone assumes it's aliens.

One More Thing

The comeback calendar

We have one word for you: schedules. As you continue to reopen and rethink your offices, one thing you're going to need to do is get good at knowing who's coming in, and when. Otherwise you end up like VMware, which reopened its Palo Alto HQ — usually home to 5,000 employees or so — and had a grand total of 99 people come back.

Different companies are handling employee scheduling in different ways. You can build your own tool, lots of apps that have worked mostly in service industries are branching out and when all else fails there's Google Calendar. No matter how you do it, you should have a plan. Otherwise you're going to be either very crowded … or very lonely.


Company culture has changed overnight. With a mass shift to home offices, many businesses are asking: What does our future look like when people can work from anywhere? In this first-ever roundtable with Trello's leadership team, learn how Trello has scaled a successful hybrid work model over the past decade.

Learn more

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Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Bob Staedler's name. This story was updated on June 28, 2021.

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