TIME Companies

How Dennis Crowley Built Foursquare After Quitting Google

NikeFuel Forum
Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley speaks during the NikeFuel Forum at Spring Studios on October 15, 2013 in New York City. Mike Lawrie—Getty Images

"If they’re going to turn it off, we’re going to build another one!”

Remember checking in to places on Foursquare? Of course you do. At the peak of its hype around 2012, the app boasted more than 20 million users and billions of check-ins. Everyone with an iPhone seemed to be using it to let their friends know what they were up to. You may have even been “mayor” of the brunch spot down the street or the rooftop bar downtown.

Though the check-in’s popularity has cooled, the company’s excitable co-founder and CEO Dennis Crowley is pushing ahead in the app’s bustling Manhattan headquarters, figuring out new ways to make money off its wealth of search data. Foursquare claims 55 million users worldwide, with a recent split in the app’s functions attracting a new generation of users.

Crowley, 38, sat down with TIME this week to talk about his long road from broke snowboarding instructor to chief of a multi-million dollar venture. Along the way, Crowley nurtured his addiction to connecting friends with hip places by constantly updating Foursquare’s early progenitor, Dodgeball, an app he first built in 2000. He told us about the ups and downs of entrepreneurship and continuing on even when a Palm Pilot startup lays you off and Google drops your pet project.

Here’s Crowley (edited and condensed for clarity)…

On building rickety websites in the 1990s

I was never able to take computer science or engineering classes, because I just wasn’t good enough at math to get into them. But I was able to put together these very basic static websites. I learned a lot of it just out of a book, a learn-to-make-a-website-in 30-days book.

In college, I’d go, “hey, we were at this party,” and I would take the pictures and put them online and write stories and send them to my friends that went to college elsewhere. Like, “Hey, this is what I did this weekend, isn’t it cool? It’s like a photo book, I’m sharing it!” It took me four hours to scan all these photos I took with a disposable camera and it cost me $20 to develop the film. But I was really into that.

On working at a cool Palm Pilot startup

I love this idea of making city guides: you make a piece of software, and it changes what people do when they leave work. You have your phone it tells you where to go and you can just make plans on the fly. [Startup] Vindigo was doing it for Palm Pilots. I was super excited about working there. They were building this stuff doing it across multiple cities and they were trying to generate advertising off of it.

This was around 2000 or so in New York. I would go to these bars on the Lower East Side [of Manhattan] and you would see people using Vindigo, with the Palm Pilot screen as this blue color, and you’d be like, “those guys are using the app that I made during the day.” And I got totally hooked on this, you can make things during the day and see people use them at night. That was my calling.

On being down and out in New York City after the Dot Com bubble burst

I turned 25, got laid off from Vindigo, and broke up with my girlfriend. It was the worst week ever. There were no other jobs to be had. I holed myself up in my apartment and we didn’t have anything to do.

We turned my Dodgeball service that we had, and I added this feature so you could say, “Hey, I’m here. Hey, I, Dennis, am here.” You have five friends on the service and it would send an email to everyone’s phone and everyone’s phone would ring, and because we don’t have jobs and we don’t have anything to do during the day, and everyone got the message at the same time.

It was like “Oh, Dennis is at Central Park, I guess we’ll all go to Central Park. Oh, Lucas is at Bleecker Street Bar, I guess we’ll all go there and watch the Yankees game.” And we built this very early Bat-Signal type of thing.

On going to grad school—because robots

I was in my beat up, after-9/11, no-job thing and my buddy said “come to this weird art thing at [New York University].” It was the end of the semester when everyone shows off stuff they’ve made, and I met this woman that was making a robot that followed another robot, that followed another robot, that followed the first robot. One of them drew a line, and the other would follow the line. One had a light, the other would follow the light. And sound, follow the sound.

I was like, “You made this? That’s so cool!” And she was like, “I don’t know, I just made it!” And I was like, “These are my people.”

On turning his grad school thesis into a Google acquisition

At NYU, we had to come up with a thesis project and [my friend] Alex Rainert said, “hey, why don’t you take that Dodgeball thing and dust it off now that Friendster is a thing?” We made it look a little like Friendster and tightened it up on mobile, and we learned a lot about geocoding and GPS. We launched it in 2004 for five cities. And it started getting some press.

I went out to San Francisco to speak at a conference. My friend there was like, “oh sh*t, I’m sorry I didn’t pick you up at the airport. Can you come to Google instead and just meet me here for lunch?” And then I went to Google and it was like, “just don’t tell anyone that you’re here, go hide behind the desk.” And people found out, “oh, one of the guys from Dodgeball is here,” and they said “hey, can you tell us how it works?”

And I spoke to one person, then two people and there were 10 people and eventually I went to this conversation when they basically said, “hey, you guys are doing some pretty cool stuff, we don’t really invest in companies but you guys should come and work here.”

And that’s how Dodgeball ended up getting acquired by Google. It was super, super serendipitous.

On reinventing Dodgeball as Foursquare in 2009 after quitting Google

We’re at a bar for my buddy’s birthday party, and someone read on their phone that, hey, Google just announced that they’re going to shut down the following three projects: Notebook, something else, and Dodgeball. And I’m like, “wait, they’re going to shut down Dodgeball? It’s still running!” Dodgeball was the reason half of the people ended up at that birthday. That’s how everyone in New York coordinated, all my friends.

And [my programmer friend] Naveen Selvadurai and I said, “If they’re going to turn it off, we’re going to build another one!” This was at the bar. And everyone was like, “Yeah! Build!” We’d sit around my kitchen table and just work 18 hours a day. Every day until the thing started getting a little stronger, and we launched in a couple other cities and it started getting some momentum.

[Venture capitalist] Charlie O’Donnell wrote this blog post, “I’ve seen the future of Yelp and it’s called Foursquare.” And it was like, people will check into this thing. Merchants want the check-ins, merchants give discounts, this company will generate money, and more people will check in. I read that and I thought, “This seems like a pretty good idea. That’s the story we should tell the investors.” That’s what we started doing.

We ended up raising some money from Union Square Ventures. And me and Naveen, we got our first $1,000 paycheck from Foursquare. Suddenly we had a three-person team, and we just started growing from there . . . and now here we are, five years later.


Bruce Jenner Is ‘Transitioning Into a Woman’

13th Annual Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational Gala At ARIA Resort & Casino
Bruce Jenner at the 13th annual Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational gala on April 4, 2014 in Las Vegas. Ethan Miller—Getty Images

A source close to the former Olympian confirmed he's making a big change

People have been talking about Bruce Jenner’s changing appearance for months, and now PEOPLE reports, “the former Olympian will soon be living life as a female.”

“Bruce is transitioning to a woman,” says a source close to the family. “He is finally happy and his family is accepting of what he’s doing. He’s in such a great space. That’s why it’s the perfect time to do something like this.”

Read the rest of the story at People

TIME Saudi Arabia

So This Saudi Prince Didn’t Actually Graduate From Lewis & Clark College

Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in the Bahraini capital Manama on April 23, 2013. Mohammed Al-Shaikh—AFP/Getty Images

The college corrected a statement by the Saudi Embassy

Saudi Arabia’s new deputy crown prince didn’t get a degree from Lewis & Clark College, the college said Friday, contradicting a statement last week by the Saudi Embassy.

The Saudi Embassy said this month that Prince Mohammed bin Nayef graduated from Lewis & Clark College in 1981, the Associated Press reports.

The college said in a statement that the prince completed coursework in the late 1970s but didn’t get a degree. The prince is “remembered fondly by our alumni, faculty, and staff,” the college said, adding it’s proud Nayef studied there.

The Saudi embassy said the error resulted from a mistranslation.


TIME States

Now There’s a Day in Texas Celebrating American Sniper Chris Kyle

Chris Kyle
Chris Kyle Paul Moseley—MCT/Getty Images

Monday is Chris Kyle day

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas is declaring Monday Chris Kyle Day in honor of the Navy SEAL sniper featured in the Oscar-nominated Clint Eastwood film.

“In honor of a Texas son, a Navy SEAL and an American hero – a man who defended his brothers and sisters in arms on and off the battlefield – I am declaring Feb. 2 Chris Kyle Day in Texas,” Abbott said Friday in a speech to the Texas Veterans of Foreign Wars Mid-Winter Convention, KWTX-TV news reports.

Kyle is said to have been the deadiliest sniper in U.S. military history with 160 confirmed kills. He was shot to death in February 2013 at the age of 38 at a North Texas shooting range along with another veteran.

Iraq War veteran Eddie Ray Routh was charged in their deaths.


TIME privacy

What Uber Still Won’t Say About Your Data

Travis Kalanick, chief executive officer of Uber Technologies Inc., gestures as he speaks during the Institute of Directors (IOD) annual convention at the Royal Albert Hall in London, U.K., on Oct. 3, 2014.
Travis Kalanick, chief executive officer of Uber Technologies Inc., gestures as he speaks during the Institute of Directors (IOD) annual convention at the Royal Albert Hall in London, U.K., on Oct. 3, 2014. Chris Ratcliffe—Bloomberg/Getty Images

A privacy audit left some questions unanswered

Uber, the massively popular car-hailing company, has acquired a reputation for being overly cavalier about data privacy. Last November, Uber vice president Emil Michael suggested investigating journalists critical of Uber to find dirt in their “personal lives.” A venture capitalist said his private location data was broadcast to a large audience at a Chicago Uber launch party. And a Buzzfeed reporter in November was tracked on her way to an interview with New York’s top Uber executive.

Uber has since refocused its attention on riders’ privacy, rewording its data policy and hiring an outside attorney to conduct an investigation.

“At Uber, protecting the personal information of riders is a core responsibility and company value,” said Uber CEO Travis Kalanick in a Friday statement. “Delivering on that value means that privacy is woven into every facet of our business, from the design of new products to how we interact with riders, drivers and the public at large.”

The results of that audit were released Friday. The investigation, led by Harriet Pearson, a Washington, D.C. attorney at Hogan Lovells with an impressive history of arbitrating privacy and security issues, agreed with Kalanick’s own assessment: Uber has a strong privacy policy. Her six-week investigation at Uber involved reviewing hundreds of documents and interviewing Uber’s leadership. It ultimately resulted in an exculpatory report that Pearson called “comprehensive.”

“In our view, Uber has dedicated significantly more resources to privacy at this point in its age as a company given its sector and size than other companies that we’ve observed,” said Pearson in an interview with TIME. Uber is about six years old, it’s valued at more than $41 billion.

The saga has raised important questions about how private companies access our personal information, from our credit card data to our precise location. A lot of Uber’s data can be really useful: The company uses it to settle internal disputes, fix bugs or help cities plan traffic patterns, as it has done in Boston, for example.

But in the age of the Snowden National Security Agency revelations, consumers are particularly sensitive about how their personal information is used. Uber has promised to follow the report’s recommendations, such as expanding employee training and making its policies more transparent. But the audit still left some questions unanswered, according to Bruce Schneier a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

“I saw nothing in their statements” to alleviate privacy concerns, says Schneier of Uber’s report. “Anytime you put this kind of surveillance power in peoples hand, they look up their enemies and friends… If the culture is not, ‘we don’t do this,’ than you do it.”

Here’s what we still want to know more about.

How many employees at Uber can see my personal data?

Uber says access is limited to employees who have a reason to need it, like those investigating fraud, answering user-driver inquiries or conducting trip analyses, said Katherine Tassi, Uber’s managing counsel for privacy, in an interview. But Tassi doesn’t have an exact figure.

“There’s no one particular number of employees that have access to user data,” she said.

How does Uber prevent its employees from looking at my data?

Uber gives employees access to customer data based on their responsibilities, while others are locked out through technical controls. “We noticed those kinds of controls at various levels” at Uber, said Pearson.

The report indicates Uber uses a combination of passwords, informal rules and employee monitoring to restrict access. In any case, according to Pearson, the company has a well-developed system for monitoring who is accessing your data and when.

So has Uber explained its recent privacy missteps?

Not fully. “We’re not going to comment on those specific instances that were in the press, but in general, we’re an organization of human beings and human beings make mistakes,” says Tassi. Pearson says her investigation only examined Uber’s privacy program and its structure, not particular incidents. So we don’t actually know how common it is for Uber employees to tap into your data, despite the company’s policy.

Do Uber employees ever get in trouble for doing fishy things with users’ data?

Uber won’t say. We know that Uber “disciplined” New York executive Josh Mohrer in November for tracking that Buzzfeed reporter’s ride, but we’re not sure how. Other than that, we don’t have any evidence Uber employees committed any other privacy violations.

Are Uber employees taught not to spy on me?

Uber talks informally with its employees about protecting customer data. Employees get “communications” from the senior team on handling riders’ data, Tassi said, and new Uber hires have to accept the company’s data access policy.

But when pressed, Uber didn’t say whether there’s a formal training program for employees, merely saying it was “in early stages of development.” That training “needs further formalization,” said Tassi.

TIME 2016 Election

Jeb Bush Opens Up on Pot Use in His Youth

Jeb Bush
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in San Francisco, Jan. 23, 2015. Jeff Chiu—AP

The potential 2016 presidential candidate's high school years were tumultuous, reports the Boston Globe

Jeb Bush has dipped in and out of politics his whole life, serving as a two-term governor and more recently announcing a possible presidential bid in 2016. But as a student at an elite boarding school in Massachusetts, he was decidedly apolitical.

In an in-depth report in the Boston Globe, classmates remember the son of Congressman George Bush Sr. as indifferent and detached. Jeb Bush refused to join the Progressive Andover Republicans club at Phillips Academy in Andover, and declined to discuss politics, reports the Boston Globe. He also indulged in drugs and drinking.

“I drank alcohol and I smoked marijuana when I was at Andover,” Bush said of his high school years, both of which could have led to expulsion. “It was pretty common.”

Bush’s grades were so poor that he was nearly expelled, and the possible 2016 presidential candidate remembers his boarding school experience as one of the most difficult times of his life, the Globe reports.

While other students “were constantly arguing about politics and particularly Vietnam, he just wasn’t interested, he didn’t participate, he didn’t care,” said Phil Sylvester, who said he was a Bush roommate for the early part of 10th grade.

Still, Bush, who went on to the University of Texas and was later named Florida’s Secretary of Commerce calls Andover Academy the place where “I learned how to think.”

Read more at the Boston Globe.


TIME Security

Bitcoins Are Easier To Track Than You Think

Bitcoin logo Ramón Espelt Photography—Getty Images/Flickr RF

The Silk Road trial shows how they can be tracked

Bitcoin is sometimes thought of as the prime anonymous cash of the Internet, believed to be as untraceable as an under-the-table payment to a babysitter or a drug dealer. But the dramatic trial of Ross Ulbricht, a 30-year-old man accused of running the contraband Silk Road marketplace, is finally putting those misconceptions to rest.

Federal agents said they were able to trace 3,760 bitcoin transactions over the course of a year to servers seized in the Silk Road investigation, Wired reports. A former FBI agent named Ilhwan Yum testified in court that he followed more than 700,000 bitcoins from the Silk Road marketplace to Ulbricht’s personal wallets.

How did Yum do it?

When federal agents arrested Ulbricht in San Francisco in Oct. 2013, they also seized his laptop before he could encrypt it. That machine gave Yum access to Ulbricht’s bitcoin address, which he then compared against what’s called the blockchain, a master list of bitcoin transactions kept to prevent counterfeiting. Comparing the two let Yum track bitcoin transfers from Silk Road servers near Philadelphia and Reykjavik, Iceland to Ulbricht’s bitcoin wallet.

In Ulbricht’s case, the transactions show Ulbricht was trading bitcoins during the same period that his defense attorney said he wasn’t involved with the website. But more generally, it shows that bitcoin isn’t always as anonymous as it’s made out to be.


TIME Companies

How Amazon Just Posted its First Profit in Months

Key Speakers At The "Ignition: Future of Digital" Conference
Jeff Bezos, chief executive officer of Amazon.com Inc. and founder of Blue Origin LLC, speaks at the Ignition: Future Of Digital conference in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014. Bloomberg/Getty Images

Amazon Prime is looking like a big win for the e-commerce empire

Amazon investors got a breath of fresh air Thursday when the e-commerce giant announced it made a profit for the first time after two consecutive quarters of steep losses. The company made $214 million in the fourth quarter and saw its revenue rise 15% to $29.3 billion, sending the company’s stock up 13% in after-hours trading.

So what can Amazon thank for its profitable quarter? It’s looking more and more like Amazon Prime.

Amazon’s membership program appears to be paying off in spades for the company. Prime members get free two-day shipping, access to unlimited music, TV shows and movies — some of it exclusive — and a host of free ebooks and a slew of special deals. And it turns out Prime subscribers, who increased in number 53% last year, buy more from Amazon, watch more on Amazon, and spend more time on Amazon.

“When we raised the price of Prime membership last year, we were confident that customers would continue to find it the best bargain in the history of shopping,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told investors Thursday, referencing a March 2014 decision to increase Prime’s price to $99 a year from $79.

Amazon jealously guards precise data about Prime members’ purchasing habits, but outside research groups have done plenty of speculating. According to a paper released this week by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, Amazon Prime members number around 40 million in the U.S. and spend about $1,500 per year, compared to about $625 per year for non-members. If that estimate is in the right ballpark, Prime members are a huge boon for the company.

“Amazon Prime members spend more than other customers, on average shopping 50% more frequently, and buying more expensive items each time,” said Josh Lowitz, a co-founder of CIRP who helped conduct the study.

It’s no wonder Amazon treats its Prime members so well. This quarter, the company announced several new benefits for them: A free two-hour delivery service called Prime Now in select areas, unlimited photo storage in Amazon’s cloud, and a new television show produced by Woody Allen exclusively for Prime members. Those bonuses could very well help Amazon sign up yet more Prime members, potentially keeping the company in the black for yet another quarter.


Alleged Owner of ‘Revenge Porn’ Site Banned From Posting Nude Images

TIME.com stock photos Computer Keyboard Typing Hack
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Craig Brittain allegedly posted pictures of naked women and charged them to have the photos removed

A man who allegedly ran a “revenge porn” website that hosted naked pictures of women posted without their permission is getting his operation shut down.

Craig Brittain acquired a horde of intimate photos and posted them on his website, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC says women who wanted their photos removed had to pay between $200 and $500 to purported third-party services which were actually operated by Brittain.

Now the consumer protection agency is banning Brittain from publicly sharing more nude photographs or videos of women without their consent. It’s also requiring him to destroy the images and personal contact information he collected while running the site.

Brittain acquired the photos mostly by soliciting disgruntled men who provided photographs along with the subject’s first and last name, date of birth, town and state, and a link to the subject’s Facebook profile and phone number, the FTC says. He also allegedly instituted a “bounty system” that awarded $100 or more for photos of specific people.

“This behavior is not only illegal but reprehensible,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “I am pleased that as a result of this settlement, the illegally collected images and information will be deleted, and this individual can never return to the so-called ‘revenge porn’ business.”


This Is the Future of Humanity in One Disturbing Photo

Sitting, eating and virtual reality

I have a dream: That one day, all women, men and children will live in a virtual world devoid of social connection and existential meaning, suckled by a constant stream of saccharine liquids and delectable quasi-nutrients, and preoccupied by an unending wave of sensory distractions and entertainments.

Actually, that’s more of a nightmare, and we may be about to live it. Thanks to the increasing ubiquity of virtual reality headsets and the general physical ease of daily life, it’s going to be more and more common to see people living like the guy in this photo posted on Reddit. (“So I got a glimpse of the future of this morning“)

So I got a glimpse of the future this morning...

The problem is, we all want virtual reality headsets, and we all want to eat delicious food, and we often want to sit around if we can. But will all those temptations lead to a dystopian nightmare?

The answer is ‘yes,’ according to one interpretation in this prophetic scene from Disney’s Wall-E, in which the befuddled robot sees firsthand a physically satiated but spiritually bankrupt humanity. (Hat/tip to Sploid on connecting the dots here.)

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser