Nearly a year after splitting itself in two and halfway-pivoting toward local discovery, Foursquare is ready for its next act: location-based ads. And here’s the kicker: You don’t even need to be a Foursquare user to see this new generation of geolocation ads. Sound creepy? Maybe, but–and I say this cautiously–it could also be useful.
The new ad product, announced today, is called Pinpoint , and it uses historical location data to target (hopefully) relevant ads to people, according to VentureBeat. The network will extend beyond Foursquare’s flagship app and its Swarm check-in platform, allowing marketers at third-party apps and publishers the opportunity to partner with Foursquare to serve location-based ads directly via their own services.
The idea behind Pinpoint is to show people ads based on where they’ve been in the physical world, a signal that comes primarily from their usage of the Swarm and Foursquare apps, which track users’ locations through explicit “check-in” activity and passive location tracking. Do you check in to a lot of dive bars? Don’t be surprised if you start seeing more ads for Wild Turkey (an official partner at launch). Did you used to frequent Olive Garden? They may try to lure you back with a free smoked mozzarella fondue.
What’s not clear is how Foursquare will get location data on non-Foursquare users, although the company has several third-party data partners–like Microsoft, HTC, Pinterest and, as of two weeks go, Twitter–which, in theory, could supply that information. The terms of data deals like these are seldom made public, so it’s hard to tell for sure.
Since the Swarm/Foursquare split of last May, user numbers appear to have dropped off, at least according to anecdotal reports. Many of my formerly Foursquare-addicted friends–and multiple Fast Company staffers–admit to not having touched Swarm since it launched. Foursquare says it has more than 55 million registered accounts between the two apps, although there’s no word on how many of those accounts are active.
At Foursquare, the focus these days is less on its consumer apps and more on the detailed and multifaceted geolocation database that powers those apps–and increasingly, the location features of third-party partners. In one of its most significant data-sharing deals to date, Foursquare recently signed on to power Twitter’s location-tagging feature in its mobile apps. That was a big coup for Foursquare as it attempts to become what CEO Dennis Crowley refers to as “the location layer of the Internet.” These data deals are just piece of the monetization puzzle as Foursquare figures out how to build a business atop of its massive geolocation dataset.
To some, Pinpoint may inch toward some creepy territory, especially in our post-Snowden, privacy-conscious times. At the same time, Foursquare isn’t the only app that’s tracking your location day to day–far from it. If executed properly, location-based ad initiatives like this could prove to be very useful to consumers. I mean, if our devices are going to log our every move anyway, we might as well get some extra free breadsticks out of the deal.