Friday, August 20, 2010

Facebook brings us location as no one else can

<blockquote>If you're like me, when you find a place you really like, you want to tell your friends you're there. Maybe it's a new restaurant, a beautiful hiking trail or an amazing live show.</>

That's Michael Eyal Sharon on the Facebook Blog introducing Places. Places is the new feature being rolled out by Facebook that allows you and your friends to let people know where you are. Well, your friends can put you where they are unless you block that function. According to Mr. Sharon you are always given the option of choosing who sees your location. I'm sure we can, but is Places starting at the point Facebook was in 2005, or in 2009? Things have changed a lot in 5 years. If you don't believe it, or if you haven't seen Matt Mckeons graphic animation of the changes in how much of your information is public by default in Facebooks privacy settings.

Four Square, the current king of location sharing networks, has to be watching this development closely. No one can ignore it when Facebook moves into their space. Does any other company claim membership of 1/14 of the worlds population? That's some heavy competition if any of your users are also theirs. And with 500,000,000 users, odds are some of them are.

I've posted my opinion of Foursquare and other services that allow you to broadcast where you are (and where you aren't) before. Foursquare has some really good sharing controls. But Facebook has a tendency to water down it's controls as time goes on. I haven't seen the privacy controls for Places yet, but if the privacy policy follows the trend set by Facebook, in five years or less Places will be broadcasting most users location to every business in a 100 yard radius, and everyone unless you specifically tell it not to. A nightmare for privacy and personal security.

Location broadcasting services are working hard to make themselves useful additions to your social networking experience. And they are providing some interesting services. With proper privacy controls and a little common sense they can be useful. But can you trust Facebook to maintain the proper privacy controls in light of the lowsy record Facebook has when it comes to maintaining users privacy?