In an attempt to make parents’ heads explode, Facebook introduced another possibly perplexing wrinkle to their ever-expanding social web. Places is a new app that will allow users to share their real-time location data, commonly referred to as geolocation, with their friends and possibly friends of friends.
Places is a natural extension of Facebook’s core functions as a social network. Rather than turning Places into a game, like Foursquare, by including elements of user competition, Facebook is looking to Places as a way for users to get more real-world benefit from their network of Facebook friends. Though I am not yet able to test Places (test-drive coming soon) I have done enough reading on it to discover a few facts and a couple of things parents and privacy-minded adults should look out for.
Places is currently only available for use on Smartphones though it will likely be rolled out for Facebook’s desktop version as well soon. I see no reason why someone carrying a netbook or laptop won’t be able to participate shortly. It is an opt-in service, meaning it has to specifically be chosen and interacted with by the user. No one will simply begin sharing their current location without their knowledge, which shows that Facebook is learning from past mistakes about being too liberal with user data.
People that participate in Places will be able to check in at a location and share their location with their network of Friends. So Johnny and Suzy are friends, and Johnny checks in at his local coffee shop and Suzy gets his status update that he is there. Meanwhile, Johnny on his smart phone sees a “Here Now” screen displaying which of his friends are at the coffee shop.
There are two specific measures people can take to lessen the chances of sharing their geolocation data with too many people:
- Don’t allow friends to check you in. Places has a feature where one of your friends can check you in at a location without your knowledge. This just jumps off the screen as a bad idea, especially for younger users.
- If you use lax privacy settings (Share info with everyone) and use Places you are going to automatically included in the Here Now list, and it will be visible to everyone who uses Places. I would choose stricter settings and if you are really concerned about your data, opt out of this altogether.