Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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8/25/2010
10:37 AM
Jim Rapoza
Jim Rapoza
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Keeping Facebook In Its Place(s)

I know what you did last summer! And last Tuesday afternoon. And last night. OK, I don't actually know this, but Facebook Places does

I know what you did last summer! And last Tuesday afternoon. And last night. OK, I don't actually know this, but Facebook Places doesIn case you missed the recent news, Facebook Places is a new feature of the popular social network that makes it possible for mobile users of Facebook to check into the locations they visit, whether it's a local coffee house, sporting event or pub. Places is essentially Facebook's response to the popular Foursquare service.

Like a lot of people, I'm somewhat torn about the new Facebook Places feature. The really social part of me loves it. I mean, how many times have you been at some event, and then days later while talking to a friend you mention, "I was at the concert in the park last Saturday" and your friend responds, "I was there too! Too bad we weren't able to meet up".

Using a feature like Places can help avoid these situations. Of course, there's also the possibility that the last person in the world that you wanted to run into at that event is that person.

And that's where some of the concerns come in. If I use a feature like this, I want to have just about as much control as humanly possible. And to Facebook's credit, at rollout Places is set to a fairly high level of privacy, at least compared to past Facebook rollouts and changes.

To me, probably the worst feature of Facebook Places is the ability for friends to check other friends into a location. So even if you aren't at the pub with your friends, they can say that you are. Supposedly a user will get a notification when a friend tries to do this and can choose to deny the placing but given the limited appeal of this feature, I'd recommend turning it off.

I also recommend turning off the ability for friend's applications to see your places data (this is done in the Applications and Websites privacy settings area). That's the other potential area of concern with features like Places.

You know Facebook isn't adding anything that doesn't have the potential to bring in revenue and you know advertisers will be trying to utilize this data to its fullest potential. And I for one am not really looking forward to getting location based ads thrown at my phone ("Hey, you're at the South Bay Mall! And from you're Facebook profile we see that you're a fan of the Chargers. Stop by the Sports Store for ten percent off all Charger's gear!!!")

So right now, I don't have a huge problem with Places, but there is one really big concern that I do have. Right now, the privacy settings for Places are pretty good. But as everyone knows, Facebook has a history of changing privacy controls when they become an impediment to the growth of a potentially lucrative feature.

And if sometime down the road, Facebook decided to turn Places on by default, and turn off all the privacy controls by default, and make it very confusing (or impossible) to set strong privacy settings, then I may just have to tell Facebook Places just exactly where it should go.

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