When you walk into a restaurant at this year’s SXSW, Foursquare’s new Hypertrending feature will know. Your phone will show up as a blip on a live map that literally anyone in Austin, Texas can access. And Foursquare founder and executive chairman Dennis Crowley just really wants to know: do you think that idea is creepy, or no?
“If this freaks people out, we don’t build stuff with it,” Crowley told TechCrunch, talking past the fact that he’s apparently already done so at SXSW.
Mind you, Hypertrending is anonymous in the sense that no one should be able to pin down exactly who’s inside a restaurant or bar. It’s designed to let other Foursquare users see which establishments are popular, but more visually than Foursquare’s trending metrics have provided in the past. As more people pour in, the circle gets bigger, indicating “Hey, this place is happening right now!” That does seem potentially useful.
But Hypertrending has some practical issues: a restaurant might not look too busy in the app, but it could be swamped with people who don’t use Foursquare. It could also theoretically pose a security risk, since you can see how many (or how few) people are packed into a space. Should something bad happen, it’s not necessarily just Foursquare’s users who will be affected. And that’s not counting the possibilities for abuse if Foursquare or partners do wind up tracking people in a less-than-totally-anonymous fashion, not that we’re suggesting they’d do so.
Foursquare isn’t rolling the feature out beyond Austin, Texas quite yet, but you don’t need to wait to tell Foursquare’s boss what he should already know in his heart to be true. It’s rare for tech companies to give us so much advance warning, and so here’s your chance to tell Foursquare whether Hypertrending is the feature for you.