Last week Facebook debuted their latest application, Places. Much like Foursquare, Places is a geo-location tool that allows you to share your whereabouts with friends. What a great way to prove to the world you've got a social life, right? While that may be true, its unique tagging functionality could be a disastrous way for everyone and their mother to find out where you are at all times, and without your permission.
As a part of the application's launch, all Facebook users automatically opted-in to Places. By this, users unknowingly made their accounts available for tagging by friends using the feature. Like Facebook photos, users can wind up tagged in any number of compromising situations. But whereas people typically volunteer to appear in pictures, friends can easily loop in others' names on Places updates, totally unbeknownst to them. Remember that 3 AM round of Patron shots at the bar on Saturday? Well thanks to your friends' Places update, Facebook does, and you'll be unhappily reminded of this come the next day in your Newsfeed.
The ACLU's Northern California chapter has already jumped down the throats of Facebook representatives accusing the organization of totally shirking the rights and safety of its users:
Places allows your friends to tag you when they check in somewhere, and Facebook makes it very easy to say 'yes' to allowing your friends to check in for you. But when it comes to opting out of that feature, you are only given a 'not now' option. 'No' isn't one of the easy options.
Having others see where you are without your knowledge is disturbing for a variety of reasons. Facebook "friends" have never been limited to close acquaintances. We can see and be seen by our family members, exes and coworkers. I can think of at least one jealous friend who would capitalize on the application to better stalk her current and former beaus. And bailing on one pal's birthday party in favor of a night at the club can result in total social upheaval once you're tagged. Try telling your significant other you ran late letting the dog out because a work meeting went over if say, everyone knows you were checking out the sale rack at Anthropologie. Of course lying is wrong (boo hoo), but everyone does it from time to time. And now, everyone is at risk of getting caught.
As one blogger at AdAge discovered, the act of tagging your Facebook friends is another sure-fire way to piss them off. Not surprisingly, her recent dinner companions expressed disdain that she posted their location (along with their names) without consent.
To my surprise, the group was appalled that I could tag their locations without them knowing. One said while he's on Foursquare, he keeps tight guard on who gets to follow him there, while his Facebook pool is far wider and includes people he doesn't feel comfortable sharing location with. He later said that while he's OK with advertisers knowing what websites he's visited or other such details, he's really not into acquaintances, exes and coworkers knowing where he is at any given moment. That's personal.
When it comes to dealing with Facebook Places, we're left with a few options. First, it is possible to update your privacy settings to exclude you from ever being tagged. The process is on par with VCR instructions, but doable. If you simply can't resist getting in on the action, consider establishing rules of activity with your friends, the golden rule being, "Ask me before you start dropping my name all over the social web!". That said, get yourself a smart phone if you don't already own one. At least that way you can un-tag yourself before too many people see it.