What’s So Wrong With Facebook Places?

Facebook, in what could be another potential degradation of its users privacy launched a new enhancement last week whereby those users who Facebook on their iPhone will be able to use their phone to broadcast their location to their friends.

Image reference: Ed Yourdon

Facebook Places works using GPS equipped iPhones, it works out your location and presents you with a list of local landmarks and attractions where you can ‘check in’ and this information is then used as an update letting your friends know where they can find you. If you ‘breadcrumb’ particular restaurants, bars or clubs your friends will know where you have been and what you thought of the place while you were there.

Of course location based mobile apps like Foursquare already exist and are growing in popularity they are virtually insignificant when you consider that Facebook’s subscribers number more than the entire population of the United States. According to Facebook’s own figures, 150,000,000 use their phone to access it. However, Places is only currently available as an iPhone app through an enhanced mobile website. Facebook will be hoping that businesses and industry will see the advantages of being able to market to people knowing their specific location and pay to advertise thus creating a new revenue stream with deals for local business, sponsorship and special offers.

Image reference: Ed Yourdon

The security issues are obvious and Facebook says that Places has built in controls to protect sensitive location information such as limiting the default visibility of check ins to friends only however, as iPhones proliferate and become cheaper users will become younger, anxious parents might give their child a phone enabled with Places so they can check their whereabouts at all times, but children are notoriously careless with their online security leaving them open to hacking and thus broadcasting their entire Facebook profile and location to the world.

Facebook has made various  changes in privacy controls in numerous regions following privacy issues and some critics are claiming that Facebook runs a “Here Now, Security Later” policy to new features.  Augie Ray, social networking analyst with Forrester Research said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that: “It's nearly impossible to launch any new social feature without some level of privacy concern, and it remains to be seen whether users will like or dislike the fact that they can be checked in by their friends,"

Facebook countered that since not all of its users had the phones required to access the service it’s merely an advantage to the iPhone and users can turn the friends check-in off entirely, although it is permitted by default and, as lifehacker point out, it is often found that facebook applications far harder to turn off than seems altogether reasonable.