Investigator’s Guide to Foursquare Swarm

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Investigator's Guide to Foursquare's Swarm App - Swarm logo under magnifying glass.

The Investigator’s Guide to Social Media introduces popular social media platforms and how information shared on these platforms can benefit investigators. In this installment, we’ll be discussing why one should be investigating Foursquare Swarm.


What is Foursquare Swarm?

In 2014, Foursquare launched a spin-off consumer app to assume many of the platform’s social network features. Called Foursquare Swarm, the app shares location information from its users’ mobile devices in exchange for virtual coins and stickers. While the rewards Swarm offers its users might be abstract, the location information its users share has the potential to be invaluable to investigators.

When Foursquare recently surpassed 10 billion check-ins, Foursquare’s Vice President of Product had this to say about the platform’s future:

“People are checking-in more today than ever before  and for different reasons. They love playing the real-world games  like mayorships, sticker upgrades, and winning the friend leaderboard. Checking-in has become this awesome habit for millions of people who are creating a digital life log of all the places they’ve discovered.”Jonathan Crowley, Foursquare

That “digital life log” is precisely why marketers and investigators of all backgrounds should have an interest in the content users decide to share on Swarm.

How does Foursquare Swarm work?

Swarm is a mobile app which utilizes a device’s location services in order to allow its users to digitally interact with the physical world around them. The app allows users to check into venues and rewards the behavior by offering users the ability to unlock fictional achievements.  (Examples of gamification in Swarm include: mayorship, leaderboards, stickers, and coins.)

Foursquare Swarm Terminology

  • Check-in – A check-in occurs when a user reports they have physically visited a venue. Check-ins are shared with the user’s friends and allow the user to earn coins and stickers. (Off the grid check-ins do not share the user’s location with friends and are not applied to mayorship.)
  • Neighborhood Sharing – Unlike check-ins, this feature does not require action from the user to share their general location. Rather than pinpointing the user on a map, Neighborhood Sharing will display the distance to a user or share an approximate neighborhood where that user can be found.
  • Stickers – Stickers are a reward offered by the app to encourage users to check-in more frequently. Users can unlock based on their check-in activities at venues. After earning stickers, users can attach them to their check-ins.
  • Coins – Users can earn coins when they check into venues. Users can check-in with friends, collect a number of check-ins at the same type of venue, or complete challenges to earn bonus coins. Coins can be redeemed for upgraded stickers or Swarm Perks.
  • Mayorship – The Foursquare user with the most “days” with check-ins at a venue within the past 30-days is named the mayor of that venue.
  • Here Now Facepile – This feature shares a list of users (depicted by their profile photos) that have also checked-in at a venue.
  • Leaderboard – This feature allows users to compete against their friends to earn more coins.
  • Swarm Perks – This features allows users to purchase real-world coupons to nearby venues for the coins they’ve earned for in app activities.

Who uses Foursquare Swarm?

Foursquare has 55 million monthly users and averages 9 million daily check-ins on Swarm. The platform has traditionally appealed to a younger, tech savvy crowd.

Distribution of Foursquare Swarm Users by Age

Investigator's Guide to Foursquare Swarm - Graph illustrating the distribution of Swarm users by age.

Demographic information courtesy of Forrester Research.

What information do users share on Foursquare Swarm?

While the value of the content depends on the user’s level of engagement, Foursquare Swarm is the standout platform for tracking a subject’s location.

According to its developers, the following information is publicly available: user’s name, profile photo, home city, user biography, links to connected Twitter & Facebook accounts, check-ins shared to Twitter & Facebook, tips & lists, check-in comments, here now facepile, public check-in photos. While many of these elements can be edited or are entirely optional, they provide investigators with a wealth of identifiers. (These identifiers could be used during an investigation to positively identify the account owner & request a subpoena for the user’s private information.)

Friends and claimed locations can see additional information. For instance a Foursquare Swarm user’s friends can see the location and time of a user’s check-ins as well as private check-in photos. Managers of claimed locations have access to user’s check-in information, name & profile photo, and any connected Twitter handle.

How does one search Foursquare Swarm?

Similar to other mobile-only applications, investigators must use a mobile device or emulator to search Swarm. After installing the app, investigators are able to search Swarm for any contacts in their address book, Twitter followers, or Facebook friends. Investigators also have the option of searching for a subject directly using their name, email address, or phone number. Search results are paired with the user’s profile photo which can aid in positively identifying the subject’s account.

Should you be investigating Foursquare Swarm?

If your investigation could benefit from knowing a subject’s whereabouts, you should absolutely be investigating their activity on Swarm. There is a good reason for Twitter, Microsoft, and AT&T to use Foursquare’s geographic location information in their products; it’s the best source for such information. While the platform’s mobile-only nature might cause some investigators to struggle, the information which users are sharing is worth the inconvenience.

Let us know how you investigate mobile applications in the comments section below. Want more information about SMI’s social media investigation or preservation products? Please contact us or call (888) 299-9921 and one of our representatives will gladly assist you.