Facebook Places and “protecting” yourself

1911 World Map by perpetualplum

There is a rather alarmist meme going about with the launch of Facebook Places, a Foursquare (and Gowalla and Brightkite) knock-off that looks to log your social activities by “checking-in” to the places you visit. This technology is not new, but people are up in arms. What gives? The difference between Places and Foursquare is two-fold.

  1. Places is an opt-out application. If you’re on Facebook, you’re automatically part of Places. This differs from Foursquare significantly in that you have to choose to download Foursquare, and you start with no connections. You build your location-based network the old-fashioned way: approving friend requests. With Places, you’re dropped in with your existing Facebook contacts and have to choose to say “No, thanks” instead of “OK, I’ll try.”
  2. Places lets other people check you in. If you’re with your pals at the bar and one of them makes a check-in on Foursquare, there’s no indication that you’re there as well, and Foursquare doesn’t ask if you see anyone else you know there . Places, on the other hand, allows folks checking-in to “tag” other people as also there, without their permission or notifying them. Later, you have to go in and remove those tags if you’d rather not have your high-school buddies knowing you ditched them to hang out with your work buddies.

But does this really warrant all the worried-parent sounding headlines? Hell, even the Electronic Frontier Foundation weighed in: “How to Protect Your Privacy on Facebook Places“. But over the past year, Facebook has done so much privacy demolishing, has anyone who is truly concerned about being spotted and tagged at a bar not already taken action to limit their privacy settings? My sense is that if you’ve still got your profile open to that nasty and misleading “Everyone” then you’ve got bigger problems than the possibility of getting dumped for skipping your girlfriend’s art opening.

Yes, it is annoying to opt-out of a Facebook initiative again. No, I did not expect anything different.

At the end of the day, we have the alarming headlines to thank for alerting us. Lord knows Facebook isn’t going to try too hard to keep you private. But remember to keep things in perspective: (most of) your Facebook friends are still your friends. And if they’re not, then it’s time to rethink your Facebook usage in general.

Again, this issue in my mind is more principle than practical. I’m not so sure it’s the end of the world if I woke up to find that my pal “tagged” me at the Cactus Club. I’d still be more concerned if the photos of the evening showed up, but that’s not a new issue and it’s one that isn’t made particularly worse even if the exact venue is known.

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