Back in 2013 I learned about and began to use the Foursquare social network. It was cool, you could check in to your current physical location, and your friends would see where you were. Although there are some very potentially significant problems with doing that, some times it was actually very helpful. If you saw one of your Foursquare contacts log in to where you also were, or near by; or if one of your contacts saw the same about you, real in person meet ups were much more possible. You could also look back in your history, or your friend’s history and be reminded of cool times. Foursquare has lost most of its popularity in recent years, but it still exists and some including me still use it. Beyond the social aspect, it has a large database of public locations, and this library is still often used in GPS apps to augment map data they already have.
Over the last two decades or so, April Fools day has been greatly exaggerated online, to the point where some people make a point of not reading anything on the internet on the first day of the fourth month of the year. A few of my favorites have been when Warner Brothers claimed to have bought Pirate Bay. Then in 2014 there was SwiftKey on a physical keyboard. My favorite internet April fools prank so far, however, has been when Google announced their TiSP. Short for Toilet internet service provider, where Google’s fictitious but free internet service ran through sewage lines. The enterprise version included support for backup problems, brownouts, and data wipes.
On April first, 2014, probably after reading about the newest silly pranks that year, i decided to have some fun and join the party myself.
I often use a GPS navigation app called BlindSquare. Instead of telling me when to turn right or left to get somewhere, it tells me street names and landmarks I’m passing. Very much like what a sighted person would gather looking around as they traveled. BlindSquare can also tell the user near by intersections, near by landmarks, and other kinds of things a blind person might need to know while navigating. BlindSquare also has simulation mode where you can pretend to be in a location different from your own and get the same info from that location. The app is called BlindSquare, because along with getting map data from OpenStreetMaps, it gets landmark information from the FourSquare network. It can also serve as a FourSquare client and check in for the user. Being April fools day, I decided to have some fun and check in to a bunch of places that I could never get to all in one day. I started out in Vienna and for the “what are you doing” prompt I said, that I’d been celebrating the birthday of Franz Josef Haydn, born March 31 1732. Next I checked into Observatory Hill Park in in Sidney Australia. After that I checked into Hexagon Mining | Devex at Edifício Gaissler & Solon, Belo Horizonte, Brazil , that was when the fun happened. My Brazilian friend Guilherme saw that and really thought I was there, wondered if we could meet up. He knew that I had been n exchange student a year in Brazil earlier. I was sad we couldn’t and told him what I was doing. He agreed though a bummer I wasn’t there that it was still funny. Then it was off to the Hong Kong museum of history, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, where I posted “If I could just teleport, maybe I can on April first.” After that, i felt I’d had my fun, I also wondered why FourSquare was allowing that and what security flaw that might be exposing.
I’ve remembered, and have smiled about my shenanigans over the years; so, I think did FourSquare. A few years after that, I tried to check in to far away places again, BlindSquare replied with that one could only check in to places with in 1 half mile of their actual physical location. No more fun, but I was happy they had squashed that bug, or so I thought.
When I woke up this morning, FourSquare sent me a notification, “look back at when you were in Australia nine years ago today”, that made me smile, and then wonder. I opened BlindSquare and simulated the location of a friend in Oregon state where I was surprised when BlindSquare let me actually check in to the near by neighborhood pool, but that was it. When I tried to check in other places, BlindSquare kept saying “you may not check in at a simulated location” so I guess it allowed once, but not again. We will see what happens in the future.
When developers write software, some times, me included, they don’t consider things outside of their use case, or uses that are blatantly wrong or impossible, that’s where hackers find their way in. Back in the day, hackers were first defined not as malicious people trying to break software for negative intent, but more as people who made a piece of hard or software do something different from its initial purpose. It’s always important when writing software to incorporate error checking for all kinds of things, even if you don’t think anyone will ever think of it. They will, and when they do the best result is that you will find out right away with the opportunity to fix it.