Untappd Knows Where You Live

Yesterday, Untappd rolled out version 2.3.7 of their app for iOS. There were a couple neat features added like “Check-in Alerts” and (unfortunately) a quarter-star rating system. One new feature caught my eye, the ability to go back to old check-ins and add a venue. But wait…how does Untappd know what venues you were near when you checked in?

As it says on the knowledge base page, “When you check-in a beer and have enabled geolocation, your checkins are geotagged, just like your photos are Geotagged with Instagram.” The difference between Instagram geotagging and Untappd geotagging is that Instagram gives you an option to toggle location services and notifies you quite visibly when location tracking has been enabled. With Untappd, so long as location services are enabled, your exact GPS coordinates are transmitted.

On a fresh install of Untappd, you are immediately presented with the location services dialog. At this point, you haven’t even typed in your username or password for Untappd. Notice the lack of a reason string, which is now required as of iOS 8. While this omission was hopefully an honest mistake, developers making use of iOS 8 deployment targets would not be so lucky — location services do not work without it.

Untappd Location Services Dialog
Why do you want my location? Can’t I sign in first?

If you were naïve enough to accept, and you go about your business, your GPS coordinates will be transferred to Untappd whenever you check in. Here’s the data that gets POSTed. There’s no indication that my location was sent, and no venue (foursquare_id) was tagged. As a user, I have no reason to expect that my location (in this case, my home address) has been sent to a server somewhere.

Untappd Check-In Parameters
Data that gets sent when checking in a beer to Untappd.

Interestingly enough, as soon as I checked in, I was presented a promotion for $5 off tickets to the DC Craft Beer Festival. Relevant to my interests, sure, but a naïve user is probably wondering how Untappd knew that they live anywhere near this venue. Creepy.

Untappd Promotion for DC Craft Beer Festival
Hey Untappd, how do you know where I live?

Displaying this advertisement promotion shows the clear reason why check-ins are now being geotagged — target advertising. We all knew this day was coming. I’m not upset about it, but it sure would be nice to be warned and have the option to disable GPS tracking, especially as a paying supporter. There is no indication that location is being tracked in Untappd’s Terms of Use (last updated 2010!) and their Privacy Policy says that location is only used to “statistical purposes,” whatever that means. Sounds like something needs to change.

Shameless plug: if you definitely don’t want to be tracked but don’t want to have to play the Settings > Privacy > Location game every time you want to tag a venue, download my app Tappd That and use it to check in beers to Untappd.

As for me…

Untappd Location Settings
My new location settings for Untappd.