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August 19, 2010

Facebook is going Places with location sharing

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by Darren Allan

Here’s a new feature, brought to you by Facebook, which will have privacy activists breaking out in cold sweats, rashes and multiple other undesirable symptoms, no doubt.

The social networking site has just cracked the champagne bottle and launched a new service called Facebook Places. What does this do? In two words, location sharing. Or as Facebook puts it, “Who…What… When… and now Where”. (Notably, they missed out “Why?”).

Yes, now all your Facebook friends will be able to tell exactly where you are in the world, if you want to share that information with them, and providing you have the Facebook app on your iPhone. Or you can access Places on touch.facebook.com on any smartphone, providing it has an HTML5 browser, and is geolocation capable.

Sharing your location is as easy as touching the Check In button, and selecting from a list of places registered near you. If a place isn’t registered, you can add it.

If friends share their location and it’s around about where you are, you’ll be notified of that, too. So should you be at the same music gig without knowing it, you soon will and can meet up. It’s also possible to tag friends who are with you at a place or event, in much the same way users already do with photos.

Currently this tool is only available over in the US, but it doubtless won’t be long before it’s rolled out over here.

Facebook has anticipated privacy activists’ concerns. Michael Sharon, the Product Manager for Facebook Places, commented: “With Places, you are in control of what you share and the people you share with. You choose whether or not to share your location when you check in at a place. When you check in, you can tag friends who are with you but only if their settings allow it. When you are tagged, you are always notified.”

Only friends will be able to see when you visit or are tagged as being somewhere, unless you change your master privacy setting to the Everyone level. Furthermore, minors won’t be allowed to change their setting to Everyone – even if they do, notifications will only be sent to their friends.

While it was an obvious move for Facebook to make, the service rather stands on the toes of existing location based social networking ventures such as Foursquare, who must be at least somewhat concerned at this development.

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