Gadgets & Gizmos

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Is Facebook's Places intrusive or intuitive?

20

August

On Thursday Facebook quietly launched a new geolocation feature called Places. To use it, update your iPhone app to the latest version or go to www.touch.facebook.com on a mobile device that supports HTML 5 and geolocation.

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Places is a location check-in service similar to FourSquare, Gowalla and Loopt. If you're using one of those check-in services, Places will seem similar at first. In Places, however, you also can check-in your friends, much in the same way you can tag them in posts and on photos. This is a big change from the other services and it's causing a lot of buzz.

The first time someone else checks you in you'll get a notification asking you to approve it. If you do approve your friends will be able to check you in without approval from that point on. You can turn off this feature in your privacy settings and can remove check-in tags at any time, the same way you can on photos. Facebook says Places is currently only working in the U.S. but as of today I can see a friend in Germany through Places using her location from Gowalla.

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At it's best, Places could provide a seamless integration between Facebook and the other geolocation services mentioned earlier, encouraging people to meet when they realize they're near each other. At launch Gowalla, FourSquare, Booyah and Yelp were set for such an integration. At it's worst, Places could provide yet another layer of privacy loss for people who do not pay attention to their Facebook settings and therefore allow others to reveal their location through check-in. This is the part that's creeping people out. How long until we see a major criminal case solved because someone was checked-in by a friend and thus placed at the scene of the crime? What if this technology is used by a stalker to harm someone? How many people will be busted by their spouses when it becomes clear they weren't working late but rather, checked-in somewhere else, with someone else?

As a result of these privacy concerns, many web sites have already issued instructions on how to manage your privacy settings for Places. If you intend to use it, you would be wise to take a look at your privacy settings. Additionally, this Facebook Places FAQ contains many answers to questions you may have.

I do a lot of traveling with friends and honestly find these check-in services to be helpful. But as it is with nearly all online technologies, caution is your friend.

[Last modified: Saturday, August 21, 2010 10:39am]

    

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