The time has come for the oft-discussed Facebook Places to finally launch. One of the biggest topics of discussion around Facebook Places is how this will affect user privacy – especially due to some of the huge privacy issues in the past that Facebook has had to deal with. The Facebook Places functionality just became available to many of us here at Room 214 and we have already noticed some interesting privacy issues that you should definitely take note of.
When I checked in to Room 214, I was not listed in the “Person/People Here Now” area at the top of our new Room 214 Places listing. However, a few of my colleagues did show up here:
Turns out, some users’ default privacy settings allows this information to be displayed by default, while some others (like myself) do not. If you go to your privacy settings (Account > Privacy Settings > Customize settings), you can see what your privacy settings are for Facebook Places. The difference between showing up in the “People Here Now” area or not depends on that one little “Include me in ‘People Here Now’ after I check in” checkbox. Personally, I don’t have any issue with having my friends being allowed to see where I am checked in, but the kicker here is the “and people checked in nearby” bit after that. Essentially, if you have this checkbox enabled, anyone on Facebook (all 500 million+ users) who is checked in nearby can see where you are and when exactly you are there. That is definitely something you will want to consider when thinking about your Facebook privacy.
On top of that issue, the other big thing we immediately noticed was the ability to check in your friends for them. With or without their permission. The screenshot below is an example of exactly what I’m talking about – I had nothing to do with that particular check-in that Wendy posted. This can be particularly troublesome if you’re wanting to stay off the grid and not let people know exactly where you are at any given time. I mean, think of how pissed Batman would be if Robin was always checking in for him all over Gotham City.
That being said, you have the option to disable this feature. Go to your privacy settings and scroll down to the “Things others share” section and then disable “Friends can check me in to Places”. Pretty simple.
These new options in your privacy settings will have a huge impact on your privacy. Make sure you set them appropriately to your own comfort level. Facebook Places is going to be huge and will definitely not be going away any time soon. There is no doubt in my mind that many, many users are going to be furious with Facebook Places if the uproar over past privacy concerns is any indication. Facebook users even go crazy over minor cosmetic changes to the News Feed.
Facebook places, powered by Bing Maps (Microsoft is looking smarter and smarter for this search partnership) has a real opportunity to compete with Google Places as the go-to for local business listings and information. Oh yeah, Foursquare? Best of luck to ya.
Just make sure that you are smart with your own privacy settings with Facebook Places.