Facebook Places – Close, but no cigar

Facebook Places screenshot

This week, Facebook launched a new service called Facebook Places for their users in the United States. The service will allow users to geo-tag their location on their updates and allow them to “check in” Foursquare style using Facebook. This type of geo-location data in social media is nothing new, but as usual, Facebook has put their own unique stamp on the service.

Let’s begin with privacy. To say the least Facebook has mostly learned its lesson here. After the vocal six-month protest at the beginning of this year from privacy advocates like the ACLU and the EFF, Facebook has taken a much more careful approach. The new privacy settings are well thought out and easy to configure.

Facebook Places privacy settings

However, as I have preached many times before, “Don’t opt me in!” I would prefer that users had a choice as to whether they want to participate rather than setting the service on by default and making them opt-out. I am uncomfortable with Facebook’s (and Google’s for that matter) concept that nothing is private and everyone wants to share everything. Fortunately Facebook Places defaults to only sharing with friends, but I still prefer an opt-in approach for options that could potentially threaten a person’s physical safety.

The last and most disturbing part is that you can check your friends in to your location. This could create significant social mayhem if someone thinks it’s funny to say you are somewhere you wouldn’t go. It would be easy to rectify this by prompting the person you are checking in to agree to their status, but at this point it does not appear to work that way.

My opinion remains that for your safety and privacy these location-aware technologies should be disabled. Facebook makes it easy to turn off this feature, and I strongly encourage you to opt out of this. You can always post to your own wall that you are at the Lady Gaga concert without having your phone or your friends automatically reveal your activities.