Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Foursquare Thursday: Cheating

Squirrel Monkeys

This is the fourteenth post in a series about Foursquare – read part one, part two, part three, part four, part five. part six, part seven part eight, part nine, part ten, part eleven, part twelve and part thirteen.

Over the past few months, I’ve talked about how to play Foursquare in a way that maximises your chance of getting badges and playing the game effectively. Now, I’m going to tell you about how some users play the system.

First of all, a warning: Cheating is frowned upon and can get you banned from Foursquare. Please don’t do it, as it ruins the game for everyone and devalues some of the genuinely difficult mayorships and badges. Plus, it makes people like me angry, and you don’t want to see my angry side. Okay, let’s continue…

Cheating is generally when you check into venues that you’re not physically at, either to gain or maintain a mayorship or get a badge. Some people check into venues even if they’re just passing them on the street, or passing through stations on a train without getting off for example. This is usually easy to spot as these people have very, very high checkin counts compared to an average user.

Others set up scripts to check themselves into a venue every day to ensure they’re always the mayor, perhaps to take advantage of a special deal. In the UK, we see this with the Wetherspoon chain of pubs, where the mayor gets 20% off their food bill at participating pubs. Again, it’s easy to spot – unless you have a serious alcohol problem you generally wouldn’t check in to a pub every single day, including weekends.

Some create fake venues categorised in such a way to get badges; again, superusers can pick up on this and close the venues in question. The ‘Jobs’ badge, which is awarded for checkins at 3 different Apple Stores, is a common target – sometimes you’ll see fake ‘Apple Store’ venues popping up in random suburbs of towns.

And others ‘jump’ to venues to unlock badges that they would perhaps be unable to gain by checking in through regular use, using tools that fake their location.Some Foursquare badges are awarded for attending conventions and conferences, and you’ll see some users from half way around the world checking in there just to get the badge without visiting. I’m not going to provide links to these tools but they do exist.

Why is cheating bad? If you have a script that ensures you’re the mayor of a venue, it destroys the competition for mayorship of that venue, and potentially locks regular, legitimate customers out of a special deal. It also makes the harder-to-get badges feel more trivial, as by ‘jumping’ you’re devaluing the effort that legitimate users put in to get them.

Foursquare also has a few tools in its arsenal to combat cheaters, beyond those that are spotted by superusers. If you’ve checked in a lot over a short period of time, you may have seen the ‘Rapid Fire’ error – this means you’re checking in too quickly, and until you slow down, you won’t get any points, badges or mayorships for your checkins. The same happens if two checkins are so far apart that you couldn’t have physically moved that distance; i.e. if you check in to a venue in London and 10 minutes later in Sydney, Australia.

If you’re caught, then it’s possible to have your account suspended or revoked. And you’ll lose all of your checkins, points, mayorships and badges. If you really care that much about mayorships and badges, best to play it safe and not cheat.

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