Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley says Big Tech needs to change its ways

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Foursquare's Dennis Crowley has a lot to say about data privacy
Image: Foursquare

As usual, this year’s SXSW delivered a series of discussions that dug deep into numerous tech topics and issues, including the one on everyone’s mind: user privacy and data collection.

These topics came up repeatedly during Foursquare’s presentation. In it, co-founder Dennis Crowley warned Silicon Valley’s giant corporations that their days of unchecked data collection may soon come to an end.

User Attitudes are Changing

It’s no secret the general public is becoming more aware of Big Tech’s regular encroachments into personal privacy. Crowley believes companies will have to react to regulatory shifts and public scrutiny in the future to thrive.

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Indeed, a December 2018 poll found 82 percent of Americans want Congress to limit Big Tech’s ability to collect and process user data. Moreover, Senator Elizabeth Warren made headlines after promising to crack down on Silicon Valley if elected president.

“You could certainly make the argument that companies have gone too far by collecting everything and giving you only a little nugget of value back,” said Crowley.

Foursquare Stands out Among Other Tech Companies

Crowley’s own Foursquare relies on the collection of personal information as part of its business. But the company also keeps user privacy in mind when rolling out new updates.

The firm was down in Austin to showcase its latest product, Hypertrending. The feature displays your phone as a blip on a map. As more Foursquare users enter the same bar or restaurant, its location appears bigger on the map. It’s a way to gauge a venue’s level of traffic so users can learn where the action is.

Hypertrending sounds a little weird and invasive but Crowley stressed that Foursquare doesn’t sell user data to outside companies. That difference gives him credibility when pointing out the flaws of big tech companies whose business models include selling user data at all costs.

“No, that’s not what we’re about. If there’s any moment where we do something crappy or disrespectful or sketchy… users will call you out and employees will call you out,” said Crowley. The tech executive also noted he carefully monitors Facebook and Twitter’s struggles to help his company avoid the same pitfalls.

Building a More Ethical Future

Foursquare’s focus on consumer privacy is interesting considering location-based ad services are a bustling billion-dollar industry.

While making a buck is the M.O. of most tech companies, Crowley had greater ambitions for Foursquare. The tech innovator believes his company’s prominence comes with a responsibility to help shape tech industry-related legislation.

“We’re going to have that opportunity to go to Washington and say this is what’s right and this is what’s wrong,” said Crowley. “We get invited to these rooms to help people figure out what the law should be going forward. That’s a big opportunity.”