As popular as Foursquare has become, it will soon be dwarfed by the amount of press surfacing with the release of Facebook's new location-based platform Places. It stands to reason - Foursquare's 2.5 million is a spit in the proverbial geolocation ocean compared to Facebook's half billion online users and 100+ million accessing Facebook on their mobile devices. However with all things Facebook, the taint of the invasion of privacy seems to come part and parcel.
The American Civil Liberties Union was one of the first to raise the red flag with their blog warning, "Facebook Places: Check This Out Before You Check In," and their belief that "Facebook is rolling out 'here now, privacy later.'"
I myself have written a number of blogs on the same topic (see links below). But in this instance it might be wiser to look a little closer at the facts before the angry pitchforked crowds start lighting their torches. According to a TechCrunch report, Evelyn Rusli is of the opinion that Facebook will not automatically broadcast your location data. "You cannot pass go, you cannot collect $200, until you give Facebook the greenlight."
If a Places user's friend tries to check you in, you can accept the friend's check-ins or you can select "not now." It is ACLU's bone of contention that the "not now" option will continue to annoy users with persistent check-in requests every time a friend tags you. To address that issue, Rusli says there is an easy fix. "Simply go into your privacy settings, click on 'customize settings' under 'Sharing On Facebook,' scroll down to the second section ('Things Others Share') and switch 'Friends Can Check Me Into Places' to disabled."
While the "Here Now" is "not the devil" according to Rusli, she does admit that it's the most controversial aspect of Facebook Places. "The feature is enabled by default if you have loose privacy settings, however, it is not enabled if you’ve set your master privacy control to Friends of Friends or Friends or if you’ve customized your settings to be restrictive," she adds.
'Here Now' Page on Facebook Places
Using the new Places' features, users will need a version of Facebook's iPhone application which was released late on August 18th. According to other reports, Places lacks the competitive check-in features of Foursquare and Gowalla. But, in my opinion, It's staying clear of these location-based novelty options because it doesn't need them. If users are dead-set on using these features, all of the major LBS have APIs integrated with Places.
Like the true 'monopoly' that Facebook is becoming, it was wise of them to choose to reward its users with the basics of seeing - where your friends are, where you've been, and what earlier updates were posted from that location. However according a Washington Post report (which by way, the Post's Chairman, Donald W. Graham sits on Facebook's board of directors), if users are already in the habit of checking into restaurants or bars on Foursquare or Gowalla, "they can connect those action more directly to one's Facebook's identity through the new Places' feature."
So while the jury is still out deliberating whether these privacy settings are less obtrusive than some of the Facebook's Open Graph issues, it will be interesting to see if this behemoth social network and its late entry into the geolocation space will become the more sought-after real-estate.
Will Facebook become the Boardwalk to Foursquare's Baltic Avenue? Your thoughts?
For other posts on this topic and Facebook privacy issues, please see the following: